Let’s get the big issue out of the way: Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax’s (D) $400 million defamation lawsuit against broadcaster CBS isn’t likely to succeed.

Proving CBS acted with actual malice when it aired interviews between correspondent Gayle King and the two women who have accused Fairfax of sexual assault — Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson — is a tough standard to meet. Particularly for a public official such as Fairfax.

But the real question isn’t whether Fairfax is seeking redemption or even a big payday. It’s whether his lawsuit is intended to settle scores with some of his fellow Democrats for what he contends is a political hit job intended to derail Fairfax’s climb to the top of Virginia politics.

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The lawsuit itself reads like a pulp thriller featuring a cast of central casting heavies.

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Included on the list of conspirators against Fairfax’s ambition: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D). Fairfax’s attorneys allege Stoney “views Fairfax as a political rival who has been positioned to delay Stoney’s desired run for governor.”

Who “positioned” Fairfax to stand in the mayor’s way is unclear. Maybe his attorneys are saving that for a courtroom surprise.

But Hizzoner didn’t act alone in this nefarious project.

Working alongside Stoney were Thad Williamson (a mayoral adviser and city council candidate) and Williamson’s wife, Adria Scharf, who allegedly helped peddle Tyson’s story to the press. (I’ll note here that Williamson and I wrote together for Richmond.com more than a decade ago.)

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Williamson is alleged to be an old friend and classmate of Tyson. He is also said to be a vocal supporter of Dominion Energy Chief Executive Tom Farrell’s controversial Navy Hill redevelopment scheme in downtown Richmond.

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Who else is a big backer of that idea? Stoney. Who’s leading the charge against the project? One of the most storied personalities in Virginia politics: my friend and former writing partner Paul Goldman.

And let’s close the circle: Goldman’s old law partner? Likely-to-be state senator Joe Morrissey, who is a firm believer in the anti-Fairfax conspiracy theory and is being courted by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former governor Terry McAuliffe (D).

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Speaking of McAuliffe, Stoney served as secretary of the commonwealth during McAuliffe’s term. According to Fairfax’s lawsuit, the former governor was the first big-name Virginia pol to call for his resignation.

And McAuliffe has eyes on running for his old job in 2021. Add it all up and McAuliffe has, according to Fairfax’s attorneys, “reasons to attempt to thwart Fairfax’s political career.”

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The mind almost boggles at the web of connections, the subtly of the players and the very long political game they’ve allegedly been playing.

But if the suit’s aim isn’t to win but rather to cast serious shade and distraction over McAuliffe, Stoney, Williamson and a cast of thousands, it just might work.

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And that is a problem for the rest of Virginia’s Democrats.

Fairfax’s suit forces them — again, and a few weeks out from a very important election — to take sides in a fight they have long hoped would simply go away.

Will there be a political price?

Christopher Newport University’s Rachel Bitecofer told me the lawsuit isn’t likely to filter down to the General Assembly races. There are too many other issues in the top of voters’ minds.

If voters do take the case into consideration at all, Bitecofer said, “the vast majority will see it through a partisan lens.” In other words, it’s not going to persuade anyone to switch sides between now and Nov. 5.

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But longer term?

If the lawsuit puts Stoney and McAuliffe under a cloud, that should open things up for the only declared candidate for governor in 2021: Attorney General Mark R. Herring. Or it would have if Herring didn’t have his own blackface scandal to contend with.

Instead, the Democratic nomination is wide open — say, to a contender like Sen. Jennifer McClellan.

And what a fitting and welcome twist that would be to this entire episode.

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