Republican William T. "Bill" Bolling won a narrow victory yesterday in the race for Virginia lieutenant governor, foiling the comeback plans of one of Northern Virginia's best-known Democrats, former congresswoman Leslie L. Byrne.
Bolling, 48, of Hanover County, the son of a West Virginia coal miner and the first of his family to go to college, made a name for himself in the Virginia Senate as a fiscal conservative who opposed efforts to raise taxes.
During the campaign, he proposed spending $1 billion more a year for public safety, higher education and transportation -- an expansion of services that he said would be financed by the state's robust economy, not new taxes.
Bolling won despite the decisive victory of Timothy M. Kaine (D) at the top of the ticket. Analysts said Bolling was able to persevere by casting himself as a more traditional alternative to Byrne, whom many saw as too liberal for statewide appeal.
Election returns showed that although Byrne did well in her home territory of Fairfax County, elsewhere in Northern Virginia and in urban areas such as Richmond, Bolling garnered an estimated 60 percent of the downstate vote and did well in outer counties such as Loudoun and Prince William.
"The contrasts between me and my opponent were very striking," Bolling said in an interview. "People looked at my record as someone who has tried to lead in a way that is consistent with the conservative values Virginians believe in. When they looked at my opponent's record, they saw a different history."
In a speech to supporters at Richmond's convention center, Bolling said his victory meant that Virginians "support the constructive principles and values that we Republicans believe in." He cautioned the governor-elect that he would play the part of the "loyal opposition" if Kaine were to act in a way that was "inconsistent with Virginia's values."
Throughout the campaign -- which grew heated in its final days -- Bolling stressed his anti-tax, pro-business and pro-"values" stances.
Last year, Bolling, who was elected to the Senate in 1995, was one of only 12 Republican senators who opposed the $1.5 billion budget of Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat. Bolling is conservative on social issues such as abortion and gay rights and is one of the co-sponsors of the state's pending constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The lieutenant governor's primary role is to preside over the state Senate, but the job has traditionally been a steppingstone to the governor's mansion or, at least, to a gubernatorial bid. When asked earlier this year whether he wanted to be governor, Bolling said: "Yes. Anyone who says that they are running for lieutenant governor but they don't want to be governor is lying."
With his strong business ties, Bolling was able to raise more than $2 million for his race, more than double Byrne's total of $967,506, according to campaign finance reports.
Byrne, 59, a Falls Church resident whose political career in the area has spanned two decades, said Bolling's fundraising prowess was a key to her defeat.
"We were outspent two to one, and we came within a cat's whisker of winning this thing," Byrne said. "I think we ran on principle, and I'm proud of the race we ran . . . liberal, progressive, it doesn't matter what you call it. I call it honest government, and we stood for that."
Polls showed that Byrne was lagging in the campaign's final days as the candidates sniped at each other in television ads. Bolling sought to portray Byrne as a "mean-spirited" and "dishonest" liberal, while Byrne's ads depicted Bolling as a bobble-head doll, raising questions about his work as an insurance executive for a company whose top officials were later charged with fraud. Bolling's campaign released letters from the U.S. attorney's office saying he played no role in the case.
Bolling's slim victory spoiled what would have been a political comeback for Byrne, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1986.
During her career, the outspoken politician knew both historic victory -- she was elected the state's first female member of Congress in 1992 -- as well as stinging defeat. She lost her bid for reelection to Congress and later a U.S. Senate primary to an Alexandria businessman named Mark Warner.
She went on to become the director of consumer affairs at the White House before returning to the state Senate in 1999, then lost her seat to redistricting. A victory yesterday would have meant revenge against the Republicans who cost her the Senate seat, she had said.
Staff writers Leef Smith and Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.