The Virginia House of Delegates that convenes in January will be little altered by the well-funded campaign anti-tax conservatives mounted after the historic 2004 legislative session.
All seven of the Republican challengers who vowed to take seats held by GOP delegates who supported the 2004 tax and spending increases were defeated. Michael J. Golden and Chris S. Craddock lost general elections for House seats in Fairfax County on Tuesday; the others lost Republican primaries in June.
Last week's results "show that the anti-tax movement is 0 for 2" in elections since making its threats last year, said Stephen J. Farnsworth, an associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. He noted that Tuesday's defeats were in contests for open seats, where anti-tax candidates have generally done well in recent years.
"They made absolutely no headway on the promises they made last year," Farnsworth said.
At the end of the controversial 2004 session, 17 Republican delegates joined with House Democrats in support of $1.5 billion in tax increases that expanded spending on education, public safety and health care. Anti-tax groups said the Republicans who voted for the plan were out of step with their districts and demanded their ousters.
James T. Parmelee of Fairfax County, president of Republicans United for Tax Relief, vowed to unseat the offending lawmakers "step by step by step." Americans for Tax Reform, led by Grover Norquist, released a poster titled "Virginia's Least Wanted" with the pictures of the Republican delegates who broke party ranks. The poster appeared in ads on Metro trains, among other places.
Virginia Conservative Action PAC, which sounds a socially and fiscally conservative message, recruited and funded five candidates to challenge some of the 17 delegates, with the aim of "punishing" them. Invective was hurled their way: The delegates were called "RINOs" -- Republicans in Name Only -- and "Benedict Arnolds" by national anti-tax groups.
The anti-tax Republican candidates raised more than $1.2 million for their primary and general election challenges by Oct. 26, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan database of campaign finance reports. They did score a pair of victories in June's Republican primaries, with Craddock beating Del. Gary A. Reese and Golden beating William A. Finerfrock.
Several anti-tax activists acknowledged that they had a tough year but said Reese's defeat sent the message that candidates who did break from the anti-tax position could be ousted.
"You're not going to pick up every single cycle," Parmelee said. "In the past, we've been able to pick the low-hanging fruit."
He said his comment about the "step by step by step" removal of the offenders reflected a strategy that will last over several election cycles.
"You saw a little bit of a setback this year," he continued. But he said the results could have been worse: A pair of Republican anti-tax delegates, David B. Albo (Fairfax) and Jeffrey M. Frederick (Prince William), withstood well-financed challenges. He also noted that some candidates who oppose tax increases won elsewhere in Virginia.
"The way you win long term is that you minimize your losses and maximize your gains. This is the year where we minimized our losses," Parmelee said.
Some anti-tax activists and lawmakers said they need to do a better job recruiting candidates.
"I don't want to slam any individual candidate, but we in the conservative movement have to look at how we recruit people. Right now, I'm not sure we're hitting on all cylinders," said Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William).
The House races were probably affected by low support for President Bush and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore, he said. But he added that like-minded activists and legislators may need to reach out to broader sectors of the electorate.
"We've got work to do, there's no doubt about it," said Lingamfelter, who was part of a wave of anti-tax lawmakers who stormed the House in 2001. "I think where we hurt ourselves is when we take a 'my way or the highway' approach and don't link arms and reach out to swing voters who will respond to our message."
Some moderate Republicans said that the defeat of the anti-tax candidates, particularly in Northern Virginia, indicates that the rhetoric may be wearing thin and that fiscal and socially conservative messages need to be more nuanced and realistic when many suburban residents are concerned about education and roads.
"I just don't think that your more well-informed constituencies are going to go for that stuff," said retiring Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), who said he endorsed Democrat Dave W. Marsden over Golden in the race for his seat because he believed Golden too conservative for the swing district in Burke. "They have more important things [to them like] roads and schools. . . . And they know that there is no free lunch."