Five Republican primaries beckon Virginia voters

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity and Oakton businessman Keith Fimian made their closing arguments Monday to 11th Congressional District Republicans, who head to the polls Tuesday to pick a nominee to face Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) in November.

The 11th District contest is one of five GOP primaries in Virginia. Both parties are watching crowded contests to select candidates to challenge Rep. Glenn Nye (D) in the 2nd District and Rep. Tom Perriello (D) in the 5th District. Two Republicans are vying to take on Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D) in the 8th District, while Rep. Rob Wittman (R) faces a long-shot primary challenger in the 1st District.

But the contest between Herrity and Fimian in the 11th, which includes most of Fairfax and Prince William counties, will probably be the closest race on Tuesday's ballot. It has also been one of the nastiest contests in the commonwealth.

For months, Fimian has been slamming Herrity on his record as a county supervisor, accusing him of voting to raise taxes and then lying about it. Herrity has said Fimian is distorting his record and resorting to negative attacks in lieu of a substantive policy agenda. Herrity said Monday he thought Fimian's tactics would backfire with voters.

"The big thing I'm hearing is they're upset with the negative tone my opponent has taken," Herrity said.

Although Herrity's campaign message has been more positive overall, he has turned up the volume on his own attacks in recent weeks, including criticism about a past tax lien against Fimian's company, U.S. Inspect.

Fimian's camp also accused Herrity's of spreading another story: The Manassas News & Messenger reported Friday that Fimian was convicted of assault in 1976 after a fight with a fellow student at the College of William and Mary. Herrity's campaign denied that it was the source of the report.

With nothing else on the ballot to bring voters to the polls, both campaigns expect turnout to be about 5 percent. Low-turnout primaries often favor the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans, because they have the most committed followings.

"I would say Fimian is more likely to benefit from a lower turnout than is Herrity," said Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University's School of Public Policy. "Fimian simply has stronger support among the very conservative core of the party."

No polls of the race have been released in recent weeks. A mid-May survey for Fimian's campaign showed him with a 13-point lead, while Herrity led by 21 points in an April poll commissioned by his campaign.

Connolly beat Fimian by 12 points in 2008, in part by painting the Republican as too conservative to represent a diverse suburban district. Herrity thinks that could happen again, calling himself "the only candidate that can beat Gerry Connolly in November."

It's unclear how much that message will help Herrity on Tuesday. "Primary voters don't tend to spend a lot of time thinking about who is going to win in November when they are considering two different candidates in June," Rozell said.

Herrity has emphasized the idea that he has a "proven record" as a county supervisor, and that he has substantive ideas, particularly on Northern Virginia's notorious traffic and transportation funding woes.

But Herrity has been outgunned financially. Through May 19, Fimian had raised $924,000 and had $406,000 left in the bank. Herrity, who entered the race several months later than Fimian, had raised $440,000 and had $96,000 left in the bank. Both candidates have reported receiving thousands more dollars in the past three weeks of the campaign.

Fimian has alternated his attacks on Herrity with a positive focus on his own record as "an entrepreneur with real business experience." He has emphasized the idea that he is the true conservative in the race, calling for lower taxes, less government spending and tougher immigration policies. Fimian has received the endorsements of key conservatives in the commonwealth, including Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R).

In the Alexandria-based 8th District, Moran will be seen as the heavy favorite in November over either of the two Republican candidates, Matthew B. Berry and J. Patrick Murray. In the 1st District, which stretches from Fredericksburg southeast past Williamsburg, Wittman is expected to prevail Tuesday over "tea party"-backed Catherine Crabill.

The front-runners in the 2nd and 5th districts' GOP primaries -- car dealer Scott Rigell and state Sen. Robert Hurt, respectively -- will benefit from crowded fields. Both have advantages in fundraising and name recognition, and Republican officials at the national level see them as the candidates with the best odds of winning in the fall.

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