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Jody Wagner and Michael Signer Seek Democratic Nomination for Va. Lt. Gov.

Jody Wagner, left, and Michael Signer are the two Democrats running for their party's lieutenant governor nomination. Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is the Republican nominee.
Jody Wagner, left, and Michael Signer are the two Democrats running for their party's lieutenant governor nomination. Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is the Republican nominee. (Jody M. Wagner)
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By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 1, 2009

Jody Wagner co-owns a popcorn store in Virginia Beach, selling Chunky Choco Toffee Drizzle and 22 other flavors in decorated tins. She was also the state's treasurer and secretary of finance under Virginia's two most recent Democratic governors.

Michael Signer is a national security expert from Arlington County who helped lead an insurgent campaign to topple Republican congressman Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. in November and this year published his first book: "Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies."

They are the two Democrats running for their party's lieutenant governor nomination in an off-year, summertime, likely-low-turnout primary in which even the three men running for the top spot are struggling to capture the attention of a campaign-sated public.

The job itself is not a powerhouse, although the occupant presides over the state senate and can break ties. But the post can also be a profile-raiser and key stop on an ambitious politician's path to the governor's mansion.

"It matters primarily because the lieutenant governor is a heartbeat away," said Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "Given the unique one-term limit on governors in Virginia, politically it's a very important decision."

But if the governor's contest is "a turnout race" that will hinge on which candidate can nudge his most enthusiastic supporters to the polls for the June 9 primary, Rozell added, the No. 2 job is an even bigger stretch.

"Voters hardly ever think about it at all until right before they go into the voting booth," he said. "I see this as a race among people in the know in the Democratic Party."

The Republican nomination is already decided: Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling defeated Alexandria lawyer Patrick Muldoon at a convention Saturday.

Wagner, 53, is running as the experienced, establishment candidate, netting the backing of many Democrats in the General Assembly. Signer, 36, has run as the upstart, with support from many union leaders.

House Minority leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry) worked with Wagner when she served as Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's secretary of finance. "Jody knows the state budget inside and out, and that's very difficult," Armstrong said. "All of our decisions are money-driven."

She helped Kaine write budgets under tight constraints and did it without laying off state workers, Armstrong said. "That's no small feat," especially in tough times, he said. Anybody can add money to programs, but slicing them without gutting core services is a skill, he added. And don't forget about the popcorn.

"The fact that she was successful in starting a small business and growing it, I think is phenomenally helpful when you're in government," Armstrong said.


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