Voters in yesterday's Virginia primary rallied behind moderate Republicans in the House of Delegates, turning back a concerted effort by state and national anti-tax activists who had vowed to oust them for passing a tax increase.
All but one of the six GOP delegates who faced conservative challengers were renominated as the state's voters got their first chance to weigh in on the tax and spending issues that divided the General Assembly in last year's historic session.
In primary balloting marked by low turnout, voters also chose two anti-tax champions to join the Republican ticket for the Nov. 8 general election. State Sen. Bill Bolling (R-Hanover) won the nomination for lieutenant governor, and Del. Robert F. McDonnell (R-Virginia Beach) will be the party's nominee for attorney general.
They will join former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, who easily defeated the party's upstart challenger, Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch, for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Fitch, who raised almost no money against Kilgore's millions, received about 18 percent of the vote.
"It's not about the margin of victory; it's about advancing to the next round," Kilgore said. "Tonight we advanced to the next round, and I can't wait to get started."
On the Democratic side, Leslie L. Byrne of Fairfax County, a former state senator and member of Congress, captured the party's nomination for lieutenant governor. She will join Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the gubernatorial candidate, and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), the attorney general candidate, who were unopposed for nomination. Sen. H. Russell Potts (R-Winchester) is running for governor as an independent.
What emerged from the primaries were two teams of candidates with deep ties to state politics in Richmond but starkly different political philosophies. In the lieutenant governor's race, for example, Bolling proudly calls himself a conservative while Byrne describes herself as a liberal.
Kaine welcomed Byrne to the Democratic ticket. He said that Republicans "chose guys who fought against budget reform" and that the two tickets offer a "very clear race about whether we keep the state going forward or do a 180."
Bolling's defeat of Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton deprives the GOP ticket of a candidate from vote-rich Northern Virginia. Connaughton's loss was a blow to one of his key supporters, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate but, like the office of attorney general, the position often is a steppingstone to higher office in Virginia.
"The Republican on-deck circle for governor is anti-tax," said Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax), a leading anti-tax voice in the state legislature and a Bolling supporter. "It's the guaranteed position."
McDonnell, a veteran lawmaker from the Hampton Roads area, faced Stephen E. Baril, a lawyer from Richmond who ran a well-funded campaign backed by many in the state's business community.
Byrne emerged as the top vote-getter in a four-way race with Del. J. Chapman Petersen (Fairfax), Del. Viola O. Baskerville (Richmond) and Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (Russell).
George Mason University professor Mark Rozell said Byrne appealed to "the more true-believer types" who dominate a Democratic primary. "The activist core tends to be much more liberal than the general election base."
Election officials said the heat -- 100 degrees in some places -- probably discouraged some voters. The turnout was likely to be less than 10 percent of registered voters, the officials said.
Voters who braved the weather found few lines. Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), who was unopposed, worked the polls for his fellow Democrats.
"There's only one voter every five minutes," he said. "It's great, because I can give my whole spiel."
Democrats and Republicans also chose candidates for the House of Delegates in several open seats across Northern Virginia.
Last year, after a standoff of several months, the General Assembly approved tax increases to support more spending on education and other services. The stalemate ended when 17 GOP delegates broke with their leadership to join Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) in backing the tax plan.
Anti-tax activists vowed to punish the Republicans. Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, created a "Virginia's Least Wanted" poster with mug shots of the offending lawmakers.
The effort succeeded in ousting Del. Gary A. Reese (R-Fairfax). Challenger Chris S. Craddock, a youth minister, won the GOP nomination.
But the other delegates won their primaries. In Northern Virginia, Dels. Joe T. May (Loudoun) and Harry J. Parrish (Manassas) defeated their youthful challengers, who had attempted to stoke anger over the tax increases.
Del. Robert D. "Bobby" Orrock Sr. beat back a challenge from Shaun Kenney, the Spotsylvania County Republican Party chairman. Freshman delegate Edward T. Scott (Madison) beat former pastor Mark Jarvis. And Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr. (Lynchburg), who led the coalition of maverick GOP delegates, defeated former Lynchburg City Council member Robert Garver.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only states that hold major elections the year after a presidential election. Turnout for primaries in the off-years tends to be very low.
Money poured into the six GOP House primaries as each side in the tax battle sought to make a statement.
"The most significant thing is that the war between the moderates and the conservatives in the GOP has broken out into the open for all to see once again," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "It's the never-ended General Assembly of 2004 brought to the polls in 2005."
A group called the Virginia Conservative Action PAC raised more than $230,000 to defeat the delegates, including contributions of more than $60,000 in the last week. A competing group, called Leadership for Virginia, raised more than $1 million to defend the delegates and doled out more than $130,000.
In the 33rd House District, the campaign money fueled a spirited debate as Chris G. Oprison waged a relentless campaign against May, accusing him of being out of step with Loudoun County's voters on the issue of taxes.
In the 67th House District, which straddles Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Craddock successfully campaigned against Reese on such issues as taxes, abortion and same-sex marriage.
"I know [Reese] was one of the ones who voted to raise taxes. I thought that wasn't a good thing. We're Republicans -- that's not what we do," said 18-year-old Heather LeMunyon, a Craddock supporter, who was voting in her first election.
The Republican campaign for the governor's nomination was hardly a contest. Kilgore ignored Fitch, focusing on developing his campaign themes against Kaine. The GOP candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general had no such luxury.
Connaughton and Bolling waged costly and personal campaigns in the lieutenant governor's race, repeatedly accusing each other of lying or distorting the facts and misleading voters. The two clashed often on taxes, with both men claiming credit for cutting taxes more than the other.
The party's contest for attorney general, the state's top lawyer, was not much friendlier. McDonnell and Baril sought to distinguish themselves on issues such as homeland security, drug enforcement, criminal sentencing, police spending and even transportation funding.
But the contestants often strayed from criminal justice issues. Baril accused McDonnell of "laundering" campaign money through a political action committee. McDonnell repeatedly questioned Baril's lack of experience as a prosecutor.
Staff writers Michelle Boorstein, Chris L. Jenkins and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.