The picture on Sen. Phillip P. Puckett's campaign Web page is a panoramic view from the porch of his southwestern Virginia home: a split rail fence, green rolling hills, not a car or townhouse or office building to be seen.
The image is a reminder of Puckett's roots as a rural Democratic lawmaker and a symbol of his strategy to become the state's next lieutenant governor.
"I bring a piece of the puzzle to the Democratic ticket that's a rural-vote perspective," Puckett said. "I bring some balance. I can win in areas that Democrats have been losing to Republicans."
Puckett, 57, is in his second term as a state senator from Russell County, where he has championed tobacco farming issues, pushed for higher safety standards for mining and backed Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner's tax increases in 2004. He is vice president of business development at First Bank & Trust Co.
Now, Puckett said, he wants to bring his moderately conservative views -- he is a Democrat but says he is pro-life and pro-gun -- to the entire state. He is challenging three others for the party nomination in the June 14 primary.
"Ask yourself, who can win in November? I can win in November," Puckett said in a phone interview from the car as he traveled between campaign appearances. "Most people think we are probably a long shot. But in a four-way race, anything can happen."
Puckett's challengers are Del. J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax, Del. Viola O. Baskerville of Richmond and former state senator Leslie L. Byrne of Fairfax. Byrne, who served in the General Assembly with Puckett, calls her former colleague "an unassuming member of the state Senate."
Byrne, a fiery liberal who also previously served in the House of Delegates and in Congress, called Puckett a relative newcomer to politics and said his positions are too conservative for the bulk of Virginia voters.
"I don't accept that pure geography has a hold on a winning ticket. It's a piece of it. It's not the whole thing," she said.
"It's where you fall on the issues. I don't think billing yourself as he does is going to help in Northern Virginia."
Puckett's list of endorsements does come almost entirely from fellow leaders in the southwestern part of the state, among them sheriffs, prosecutors, delegates, senators and local officials. But Puckett has also picked up the support of some of Northern Virginia's most senior senators.
Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) said she has "tremendous respect for his intelligence and integrity." Puckett has emerged as a strong advocate in the Senate Democratic caucus, she said.
"He's not a grandstander," Howell said. "When he speaks, he knows what he's talking about."
Howell said she believes that Puckett has the best chance of beating either of the Republican candidates in the fall. State Sen. Bill Bolling (Hanover) and Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton are vying for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination.
She also said Puckett could help gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine win the state's top job against Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, who is also from southwestern Virginia.
"He brings needed balance to the ticket," Howell said of Puckett. "The more people see him, the more they are going to like him."
Puckett has spent most of his time campaigning in southwestern Virginia and has focused on two issues: health care and transportation.
On health care, he said that more must be done to help people afford home health care rather than be placed in costly institutions. He has also endorsed the idea of importing cheaper drugs from Canada.
On transportation, Puckett said that more money is needed to fund the backlog of very costly road, bridge and tunnel projects in all parts of the state. He said the state must consider raising the gasoline tax, despite frustration with prices at the pump.
"You simply can't build roads today for the same prices that you built them yesterday," he said.
That admission, and his support for Warner's tax increases, could cost him votes, especially in a general election campaign against an anti-tax Republican.
Howell and other supporters said, however, that those stances are examples of Puckett's willingness to confront issues.
"The reality is that we are going to have to have additional revenues for transportation," Howell said.
But first, Puckett has to defeat his three Democratic challengers. Byrne has declined to address the question of a gas tax, saying she prefers to talk about the need to reform the land-use policies that exacerbate the road problem.
Puckett said that kind of talk ignores a basic reality.
"I think you have to address the fuel tax," he said.
"The people of Virginia are smart enough [to know] that if you are going to fix something, you have to find a way to pay for it."