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Va. Gov. Race Highlights Political Calendar
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 13, 2001

Question: In 1994, the Virginia Republican party used a convention to choose Iran/Contra figure Oliver North as its Senate nominee over Reagan budget director Jim Miller. In 1996, incumbent John Warner defeated Miller in a primary to secure the nomination. This year, however, the GOP will revert to a convention to select its candidate for governor. Why are they going back and forth between primaries and conventions? Can't they make up their minds?
– Sally Smith, Herndon, Va.

Answer: It is a truism in Virginia Republican politics that party activists - especially the more conservative ones - prefer a convention to a primary. A convention is where the truly committed show up, and while the turnout of a primary dwarfs that of a convention, there is no way of knowing who will vote in a primary. There is no registration by party in Virginia, so theoretically Democrats could come out and vote for a weaker Republican in the primary. Plus, a primary could produce nominees that don't reflect a desired geographical or ideological balance. That's why the party activists almost always prefer a convention.

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The Virginia GOP is finding it hard to duplicate the unity it had during Gilmore's 1997 victory. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
It has been more common in Virginia to choose Republican nominees by convention. The state GOP picked its gubernatorial nominee in a primary just three times in its history -- in 1949, 1989 and 1997 - and only in 1989 was the nomination contested. Sen. John Warner's decision to go the primary route in 1996 was more the exception than the rule. Having incurred the right's ire by his outspoken opposition to Oliver North's candidacy in 1994 (and his backing of an independent candidate, which helped re-elect Sen. Chuck Robb that year), Warner was not about to win over the more hard-core conservatives who show up at a state convention. And, he had the money needed to wage a successful primary effort. Besides, state law allows an incumbent to decide the method of his renomination, and Warner eagerly took advantage of this law.

With Gov. Jim Gilmore ineligible to succeed himself this year, the two Republicans seeking the 2001 nomination are Lt. Governor John Hager and Attorney General Mark Earley. Earley is a long-time anti-abortion activist who has close ties to religious conservatives. The GOP's decision to opt for a convention was a clear victory for Earley, whose supporters are expected to dominate the gathering in Richmond. Hager, 64, is nearly a generation older than Earley and is seen as the more moderate candidate. He had been pushing for a primary.

The Republican decision for a convention is probably beneficial for the Party. The Earley-Hager fight has grown contentious, and a primary would sap funds that would be desperately needed for the fall battle against Democrat Mark Warner. Warner, a millionaire businessman and the all-but-certain Democratic gubernatorial nominee, lost to Sen. John Warner (no relation) in 1996. That year Mark Warner spent more than $10 million of his own money in his unsuccessful Senate bid.

The Virginia contest is one of two gubernatorial races to be held this year. There will also be three special congressional elections and more than 450 mayoral races. This is the first time since the Eisenhower administration that a new president has not raided Congress to fill his Cabinet, creating the need for special elections.

Here is an early calendar of what's in store for 2001:

May 15 - Pennsylvania special congressional election in the 9th District. The race is to succeed Bud Shuster (R), who resigned from the House in February. Shuster's son William, an automobile dealer, is heavily favored over Scott Conklin (D) in a district that hasn't been won by a Democrat in 67 years.

May 15 - Omaha mayor election. Incumbent Hal Daub (R) faces businessman Mike Fahey (D).

June 1-2 - Virginia Republican state convention.

June 5 - New Jersey governor primary. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's (R) departure to the Environmental Protection Agency has elevated state Senate President Donald DiFrancesco (R) as acting governor. He will be challenged in the primary by Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler. The Democratic nominee is likely to be Jim McGreevey, the mayor of Woodbridge, who lost a close election to Whitman in 1997.

June 5 - Los Angeles non-partisan mayoral runoff between former Assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and City Attorney James Hahn, the two top finishers in the April 10 election. Mayor Richard Riordan is term-limited.

June 5 - California special congressional election in the 32nd District. The race is to succeed Julian Dixon (D), who died in December. Former state Sen. Diane Watson, who won the Democratic nomination in the special April 10 primary, is the overwhelming favorite over Republican Noel Hentschel.

June 12 - Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary. Mark Warner is unopposed.

June 19 - Virginia special congressional election in the 4th District. The race is to succeed Norman Sisisky (D), who died March 29.

August 7 - Detroit mayoral primary. Mayor Dennis Archer (D) is seeking a third term.

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Democrats hope to recapture NYC after eight years of Giuliani. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Sept. 11 - New York mayoral primary. Rudy Giuliani (R) is the first term-limited mayor in city history. Leading Democrats: Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Public Advocate Mark Green, and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. If no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote, the top two finishers advance to a Sept. 25 runoff. Potential Republican: media mogul Michael Bloomberg.

Sept. 11 - Minneapolis mayoral primary. Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton is seeking re-election.

Sept. 18 - Seattle mayoral primary. Mayor Paul Schell is seeking second term.

Sept. 25 - New York City primary runoff.

Sept. 25 - Boston mayor. With a huge war chest and the good graces of the city's business interests, Mayor Thomas Menino is considered safe, despite breaking his promise to serve only two terms.

Nov. 6 - Election Day.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.


© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin


 
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