Five of the six Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates who were targeted for ouster by anti-tax organizers survived their primary challenges yesterday, leaving the conservative movement's threat of ballot box retribution largely unfulfilled.
Anti-tax organizers had characterized yesterday's primaries as a referendum on the state's controversial 2004 tax plan, a $1.5 billion tax increase over two years they had decried as unjust and unnecessary. The conservative movement was particularly critical of the 17 Republican legislators who had defied party leadership and voted for the tax package championed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).
But the anti-tax groups fielded primary challengers for only six of the 17 Republicans who had supported the tax increase -- and of those six, only one challenger won. Chris S. Craddock, a 26-year-old youth pastor who had adopted the movement's anti-tax pledge, defeated Gary A. Reese (Fairfax).
"It just goes to show that people in my district really care about keeping our taxes low," Craddock said.
The other incumbent Republicans won handily. "I take my 3 to 1 victory as total reaffirmation," said L. Preston Bryant Jr. (Lynchburg), who had led his Republican colleagues in voting to approve the tax plan. "The overriding issue in each and every one was the tax reform package of 2004. Most people saw the big picture."
The anti-tax groups, however, argued that their side had achieved its goal merely by focusing debate on the tax issue.
"I think we've already been successful," said Robin DeJarnette, executive director of the Virginia Conservative Action PAC, one of the anti-tax movement's key groups. The challengers have "gotten the message out there even though they have been outspent by the incumbents by 2 to 1 or 3 to 1."
Four of the six anti-tax challenges arose in Northern Virginia. In addition to the Reese race, Del. Joe T. May (Loudoun) defeated Chris G. Oprison; Del. Harry J. Parrish (Manassas) beat Steve H. Chapman; and Del. Robert D. "Bobby" Orrock Sr. (Spotsylvania) won over Shaun V. Kenney.
Orrock said the anti-tax campaign got "some traction. This has been touted as a Democrat tax increase and that we sold out." But he told voters that "as a fiscally responsible individual, you've got to pay your bills and set a budget."
In other Northern Virginia contests, former Fairfax City mayor John Mason defeated Jim L. Kaplan in the Republican primary for the 37th District; he will face Democrat David L. Bulova, who beat Janet S. Oleszek.
Michael J. Golden defeated William A. Finerfrock in the Republican primary for the 41st District in central Fairfax County. James E. Hyland won a three-way race in the Republican primary for the 35th District, also in Fairfax.
The six-way Democratic primary for the 45th District in Alexandria and Arlington was won by former Air Force Capt. David L. Englin, a political newcomer.
Democrats held primaries yesterday in seven of the 100 delegate districts in Virginia; Republicans held primaries in 12.
But the most closely watched races statewide were those involving the anti-tax challengers, which focused attention on what has become one of the most divisive issues in state politics.
Yesterday's primaries were viewed as a means of measuring the political costs of that controversy as well as the strength of the party's most conservative, most anti-tax members. The Republican votes in favor of the 2004 spending plan, which raised the sales tax and other fees, ended a bitter and protracted impasse in the General Assembly over the budget.
The Virginia Conservative Action PAC supported challengers to run against five of the breakaway Republicans; a sixth challenger chose to run against Bryant.
A national group, Americans for Tax Reform, similarly pushed candidates to adopt a pledge of no new taxes, while a rival PAC organized by business executives and centrist Republicans called Leadership for Virginia aided the targeted incumbents.
"The races are somewhat a test case of how viable this anti-tax movement can be," Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and co-editor of "The New Politics of the Old South: An Introduction to Southern Politics," said yesterday. "If we judge them by the criterion of winning primaries, we ultimately may judge them failures after tonight. If the criterion is their ability to foster debate and send a signal to the incumbents, they might be considered successful."
Staff writers Michael D. Shear, Michelle Boorstein and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.