Virginia Republicans will choose between the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a 10-year veteran of the state Senate when they nominate the party's candidate for lieutenant governor.
Chairman Sean T. Connaughton and Sen. Bill Bolling of Hanover County, north of Richmond, are battling over who has stronger credentials as a fiscal and social conservative while they campaign across the state in a contest that has dramatically outpaced the Democratic race in fundraising.
Since he was elected Prince William County's top official in 1999, Connaughton, 44, has sought to establish himself as a leader who can erase his county's image as a poor stepchild to its wealthier neighbor, Fairfax County.
In a county that was in an economic slump, his campaign says, Connaughton focused resources on new schools, transportation, business development, public safety and infrastructure. These efforts, according to the campaign, led to the construction of upscale homes and to higher values for existing housing, as well as more amenities and better jobs.
He touts his efforts to transform the county as perfect training for statewide office.
"I'm the only one with a real record of executive leadership," Connaughton said. "When you look at the results in Prince William County, it's a success story we have to take to the state level."
He points to his county's decision to sell bonds to build some of its own roads rather than wait for the state bureaucracy to act. The property tax rate is 91 cents per $100 of assessed value, down from $1.36 when he took office. Connaughton notes that Prince William public schools have absorbed 15,000 new children since 2000.
Bolling, 47, represents a suburban and rural district reaching north and east of the Richmond suburbs to the Rappahannock River. He is a businessman in commercial insurance who calls himself the "consistent conservative" in the race.
Bolling has a conservative record in the Senate and opposed the tax increases that Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) helped push through the General Assembly last year. He said he is proud of his support from the Family Foundation, a group that opposes abortion and supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
In 2001, Bolling helped found the Virginia Conservative Action PAC, a group that is seeking to unseat Republican delegates who voted for tax increases last year.
"It's a choice between a conservative Republican and a moderate Republican. It's a choice between someone who can be trusted to keep taxes low and someone who can't. That's the choice," said Bolling, who has criticized Connaughton for allowing property tax bills to increase in Prince William even though the tax rate has dropped.
Connaughton said his opponent has accomplished little in Richmond to relieve the traffic congestion that plagues the state's developed regions or to address other challenges, such as the economic disparities across Virginia.
"If you've been down there for 10 years and you haven't gotten the job done, you're part of the problem, not the solution," Connaughton said.
Bolling said that as lieutenant governor he would encourage job creation in Southside and southwest Virginia through a mix of economic incentives and tourism enhancements. He said he believes Virginia has drifted from "core conservative values."
Connaughton responded that he is "probably more conservative" than his opponent.
"I don't go around and label people and call them names," he said.
Primaries demand a different campaign strategy than general elections because voter turnout is usually small. The candidates have been zigzagging across the state trying to shake hands with as many voters as they can.
Connaughton and Bolling are running neck and neck in campaign cash. Connaughton had $1,215,357 in the bank as of March 31, and Bolling reported contributions of $1,182,083, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Staff writer Chris L. Jenkins contributed to this report.