- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

A primary race for a Statehouse seat from Winchester, Va., is drawing attention and assistance from national groups fighting for control of the Republican Party.

State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. faces Winchester businessman Mark Tate in Tuesday’s Republican primary. The Republican Main Street Partnership, a national group that advocates limited government, is backing Mr. Potts. The national and state chapters of Club for Growth, a staunch anti-abortion, antitax group, are supporting Mr. Tate.

“We often get involved in [state] primaries, especially if moderates are getting challenged,” said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP).

“We get involved because the people we are challenging are not really Republicans,” said Peter Ferrara, president of Virginia Club for Growth.

Mr. Potts and Mr. Tate both support the party’s anti-abortion agenda. So their primary race has made Winchester, a town of 23,000 about 70 miles west of Washington, the site of a showdown over taxes.

Mr. Potts — and several of his Republican Senate colleagues — are facing challenges supported by antitax groups because they voted to halt full implementation of the car-tax repeal in 2001.

The incumbents also backed last year’s failed sales-tax referendums, which asked voters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to approve an increase in their sales tax to fund transportation projects. The Virginia Club for Growth was an active opponent of the referendums.

Mr. Ferrara said his group has not given financial support to Mr. Tate but has provided handbills and held events on his behalf to inform voters.

“Russ Potts is basically wrong on every issue we feel is important, and Mark Tate is right on basically every issue we feel is important,” Mr. Ferrara said.

“Governor [Mark] Warner has been quoted as saying he would work next year to reform the tax code and would work with moderate Republicans to increase our taxes. Mark Tate won’t do that, but Russ Potts will,” he said.

Steven Moore, president of the national Club for Growth, said his group has donated $3,000 to Mr. Tate’s campaign from Virginia members. He said he was not familiar with the specifics of the race, adding that his group decided on the donations at the request of Mr. Ferrara.

Mr. Tate said the support from the two groups has helped him gain momentum in his race. “The Club for Growth is very well respected by families and has given me credibility. It’s a great boost for a candidate,” he said.

According to its own literature, the RMSP was founded in 1998 in part to help “centrist” Republicans fend off challenges from groups such as Club for Growth. It has eight state chapters and soon will formally incorporate a Virginia chapter.

On behalf of its fledgling Virginia chapter, the group has given Mr. Potts’ campaign $1,000 — mostly for an ad in the Fauquier Citizen, a Winchester area newspaper, and an in-kind contribution.

The group has worked on behalf of many candidates across the nation and last year helped several governors’ races, including the campaign of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland.

Winchester’s primary, however, marks the first time the RMSP has become involved in a local race.

Mrs. Resnick said her group’s goal is to achieve fiscal responsibility and economic growth. For example, it backed President Bush’s tax-cut plan but has not taken positions on such issues as abortion.

Mrs. Resnick said the Virginia chapter will be incorporated in coming weeks and that its members felt it was important to take a stand in this race.

“There have been some charges that an outside group was doing ‘push-polling’ [to influence the race]. The people in Virginia came to us and asked us for help because of how nasty this race has become,” she said.

She said Mr. Potts’ record on education — he is a strong advocate of public schools and serves as chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee — was instrumental in gaining her group’s support.

The newspaper ad, which was published this week, highlights not only Mr. Potts’ education record but also his votes to reduce taxes and his efforts to obtain reduced-cost prescription drugs.

Mr. Potts said he was surprised when he first learned of the RMSP’s endorsement but was grateful and said its name symbolizes what he believes to be the true meaning of the Republican Party.

“This race is about the heart and soul of the Republican Party and where we are going,” he said. “I am a Main Street conservative Republican, not someone who [has] a ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy.”

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, a private, nonpartisan group that monitors campaign expenditures, Mr. Potts had raised $231,508, compared with Mr. Tate’s $93,538 as of the last filing period, in March.

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