Virginia voters yesterday chose two nominees with strong appeal for core loyalists in their respective parties as candidates for lieutenant governor this November.
State Sen. Bill Bolling (R-Hanover), a veteran state lawmaker and a leader of the legislature's antitax contingent, convincingly defeated a well-funded challenge from Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton to win the Republican Party nomination.
On the Democratic side, former state delegate, senator and U.S. representative Leslie L. Byrne beat back three competitors, including Del. J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax, for her party's nomination. Byrne, 58, has long been known for her outspoken style in support of abortion rights and gay rights, as well as expanded health care and the environment. Yesterday's win represented the first step of a political comeback for Byrne, who lost her state Senate seat in 2002 when district lines were redrawn.
"We put together a grass-roots effort, and it paid off," Byrne said. "We won in places like Staunton, in places like Winchester, not just in Northern Virginia."
Byrne had perhaps the best name recognition in her party from more than two decades in politics. Voters at several polls said they felt comfortable with her long record.
"I know her -- she's a woman and she's been good for Fairfax," said county resident Elyse Galik, 51.
Bolling had deep support from party activists who saw him as the race's true conservative, particularly on tax issues.
"The reason why we have done so well tonight is that we have communicated a responsible conservative vision for the future of Virginia that the people of Virginia share," Bolling said in suburban Richmond before 200 supporters, who later swayed to "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang as Bolling stepped from the podium.
In addition to defeating Petersen, 37, Byrne also beat Richmond Del. Viola O. Baskerville and state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (Russell), in a race where no candidate received more than 35 percent of the vote. Petersen, who attributed his loss to his failure to capture support from Democratic interest groups, said the November race between Bolling and Byrne will be one of contrasts.
"The two represent polarities in the parties," he said.
The office of lieutenant governor has limited power, presiding over the Senate each winter but voting only in case of a tie. Yesterday's results could prove important in the Nov. 8 election, however, since gubernatorial candidates will be campaigning alongside their party's choice for lieutenant governor.
For Republicans, this year's primary race was well-funded and bitter, as Connaughton and Bolling clashed over who was more committed to cutting taxes, restricting abortion and banning gay marriage. They accused one another of distortions, dishonesty and, perhaps worst of all in a contest for the hearts of party activists, liberalism.
Connaughton, 44, campaigned on the strength of his record leading Prince William through a period of unprecedented growth. State politicians have made that job harder, he argued, by failing to pay their share of school and road costs.
Bolling, 47, a former local official from the Richmond area, has been building party support for his run for years. He pushed his 10-year Senate record of opposing taxes. He pledged to boost tourism and job creation in southwest Virginia.
Even as the two emphasized their conservative bona fides, the race had been widely viewed as part of a broader struggle between GOP centrists and conservatives, sparked when the party split in 2004 over whether to support Gov. Mark R. Warner's (D) tax plan. Bolling opposed the deal, even as most of his Republican colleagues in the Senate sided with Warner and Democrats. He said that showed his hostility to taxes ran deeper than Connaughton's. Connaughton said he too opposed the 2004 tax increase, given that the economy and tax revenue already were growing.
Connaughton said last night that Bolling had been successful in labeling him as a candidate willing to raise taxes.
"He ran a very negative campaign against me, which unfortunately got to people who didn't know me," Connaughton said.
"Both candidates have been running really far to the right," said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University.
Baskerville, 53, who jockeyed with Petersen for second place much of last evening as returns came in, asked voters to help boost her chances of being the first black woman elected lieutenant governor and said she could help Kaine in urban areas.
Puckett, a former teacher and principal, worked hard to bring out voters in southwest Virginia and in rural areas where his supporters were concentrated.
Staff writers Chris L. Jenkins and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.