IT MAY NOT upstage the competitions for a new Virginia governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, but state Republicans already are girding for some heavy intraparty skirmishing in next year's House of Delegates elections. The infighting is not considered likely to produce a Democratic takeover of the House, and the GOP-controlled Senate is not up for election this time. But a deep philosophical split in the GOP ranks over taxes already is attracting money for both sides as well as challengers for primary battles.
Up until the final hours of this year's overtime session of the legislature, hard-line anti-tax Republicans held sway in the House, locking horns with more responsible Senate counterparts who understood the need for a package of tax increases to support essential state services. In the end, just enough House Republicans bucked their leadership to make the difference.
That has fired up national as well as state leaders of various anti-tax groups, including Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. He has kicked off a campaign that even a number of no-tax-increase Republicans find too strong for their taste; it includes a broadside "Least Wanted" poster with pictures of the 15 senators and 19 delegates who voted at least once for the tax increases that balanced the state budget. Though only the delegates' seats are up this year, the poster takes aim at all 34 lawmakers, calling them "a dying breed of Republicans."
While Mr. Norquist and other groups scour the Virginia landscape for candidates to mount anti-tax challenges, fundraising efforts are underway to reelect those who stood up for sound financial policies. Some Virginia business leaders are looking to raise millions of dollars by next summer's primaries, and a group of the Senate's top Republicans have created a political action committee to help. In addition, some House GOP leaders -- understandably worried about a destructive in-house rumble -- are working for incumbents regardless of their tax votes. As reported by The Post's Michael D. Shear, House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), who opposed the tax increase, said he did not think the Norquist pitch was helpful: "We made our positions clear last spring. There was a disagreement, but in reality we are a big party. We can wallow in the controversies of the past or move the commonwealth forward."
Still, Republican leaders hoping to paper over their chasm could have their hands full. The GOP legislators who understood the serious need to improve Virginia's financial footing had it right, but that doesn't guarantee success in next year's primaries.