Virginia voters will go to the polls Tuesday to vote for president, choose members of the U.S. House of Representatives, approve or reject two state constitutional amendments and decide a few local contests, even as the political parties gear up for a more active election year in 2005.
After several months in which Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) advertised aggressively in Virginia, the presidential campaign in the state has faded, and polls show President Bush with a solid lead.
Democrats, however, continue to organize voter turnout drives, and Republicans vow to maintain their enthusiasm even as the attention of the presidential candidates shifts to battlegrounds in other parts of the country.
"Kerry made the claims that he was targeting Virginia, but everyone always took that with a grain of salt," said Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of politics at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Political leaders of both major parties say they are optimistic about reelecting their members of Congress on Election Day, but operatives on both sides say there could be some surprises.
The only one of Virginia's 11 congressional seats with no incumbent is the 2nd District seat in Virginia Beach, where Rep. Edward L. Schrock (R-Va.) announced he would not seek reelection after a Washington-based activist claimed on his Web site that Schrock was secretly gay.
"Anytime you have a seat that comes open, it alters the landscape pretty dramatically," said Laura Bland, communications director for the Virginia Democratic Party.
Bland said the party has high hopes for its candidate, David B. Ashe, a former Marine who served in Kuwait and Iraq. But Republicans say they are confident that their candidate, Del. Thelma Drake (R-Norfolk), will win in the heavily Republican community.
"President Bush and Virginians deserve a principled Republican leader like Thelma Drake in Congress," said Shawn Smith, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia. "Ashe has built his campaign around John Kerry's failed liberal policies, which Virginians do not support."
Right now, Republicans hold an eight to three edge in the state's congressional delegation. Bland and Smith both said it will be difficult for challengers to defeat incumbents. But they also said their parties have candidates that could pull off an upset.
Democrats tout James R. Socas, who is running against Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) as a potential threat to Virginia's longest-serving congressman. "He's somebody to watch," Bland said.
Bland also said Democrat Al C. Weed II is doing a "really good job" in his campaign against Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R). She said his campaign has capitalized on the Southside region's struggling economy and concerns about the war in Iraq.
Republicans have their eye on Kevin R. Triplett, a NASCAR executive who is challenging Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher in Southwest Virginia's 9th District. Triplett has raised more money than a challenger typically does and got a boost from a visit by Vice President Cheney.
"Virginians are rallying around Kevin Triplett," Smith said. "He's a proven leader who will deliver on the long-ignored promise to Southwest Virginia for more economic development and jobs."
Holsworth said he believes it is unlikely -- but not impossible -- that one or more incumbents could be defeated this November.
"We have a number of interesting challenges going on -- more interesting than normal," he said. "Whether they rise to the level of being truly competitive is still an open question."
In addition to Wolf, incumbents Jo Ann S. Davis (R) in the 1st District, Eric I. Cantor (R) in the 7th District, James P. Moran Jr. (D) in the 8th District and Thomas M. Davis III (R) in the 11th District are seeking reelection in Northern Virginia. None faces a widely known challenger. Jo Ann Davis is opposed by independent William A. Lee, Cantor by independent W. Brad Blanton, Moran by Republican Lisa Marie Cheney and independent James T. Hurysz, and Tom Davis by Democrat Ken Longmyer and independent Joseph P. Oddo.
There are few other contests on the ballot in Northern Virginia. Arlington voters will pick a County Board member and two School Board members. Bond issues will be decided in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and the city of Fairfax. Manassas Park will vote on a treasurer and on a ballot question concerning off-track betting.
There are two state constitutional amendments on the ballot. One would expand the list of state leaders who are in line to succeed the governor in the event he or she dies or is incapacitated. The other amendment clarifies laws regarding the way the state redraws political districts every 10 years.
Polls will be open from to 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
But as the 2004 election nears its conclusion, Virginia's political parties are already ramping up for another, even bigger, contest.
Because most of the state's major elections take place in odd years, Virginia voters will not choose a governor or any of their state representatives on Tuesday. And the next U.S. Senate election in Virginia will not come until 2006.
Next year, voters will elect a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all 100 members of the House of Delegates in a race sure to include debate about the tax increases passed this year.
Republicans are poised to nominate Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore for governor, and Democrats appear certain to choose Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. Operatives from both parties said the largely low-key campaigning that has been going on for months will become more prominent as soon as Election Day 2004 is history.
STATE AMENDMENT PROPOSALS