- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Virginia Republicans are seeking to elect an anti-tax candidate in a special election for the House of Delegates, as Democrats try to pick up the seat before the General Assembly convenes in January.

The seat will be left vacant by anti-tax Delegate Thelma Drake, Norfolk Republican. Mrs. Drake, 54, on Tuesday won the 2nd Congressional District seat left open by Rep. Ed Schrock, a Republican who did not seek re-election.

Mrs. Drake, who plans to resign once the election results are certified, was a staunch opponent of the $1.38 billion tax package passed by the Republican-controlled legislature earlier this year.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Roanoke County Republican, said yesterday he knows of two Republicans interested in Mrs. Drake’s 87th District seat. That means the local Republican committee will nominate a candidate for the special election. One of them opposed this year’s tax increases, Mr. Griffith said.

“We anticipate holding the seat, but it’s not a lock-solid Republican seat,” he said. “The district leans to Democrats.”

The tax package, which raised some taxes and lowered others, passed by a slim margin achieved only when a group of maverick lawmakers broke with the Republican caucus and teamed with Democrats.

Some Republicans said at the time they were worried the bipartisan team would remain and undermine the anti-tax wing of the legislature. Losing even one anti-tax seat to a Democratcould strengthen that coalition.

Meanwhile, Democrats said they will fight to capture the Norfolk seat they held before Mrs. Drake took office in 1996.

“We will be pursuing that seat aggressively,” said Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, who is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “It will take a number of resources, but we are confident we can compete for that seat. It’s an opportunity for us to increase our numbers.”

Democrats hold 37 of 100 seats in the House. Republicans hold 61 seats. There are two independents.

Mr. Moran said the local committee will make the nomination and a number of potential candidates have already surfaced.

Democrat David B. Ashe, who lost to Mrs. Drake in Tuesday’s race, said yesterday he would not rule out running for her district seat, although he does not live in the district.

Mr. Ashe, who served in Kuwait and Iraq with the Marine Corps, said he might also consider running for another legislative seat at the state level in the future. “This campaign was quite a ride,” he said. “I asked my supporters Tuesday night if they wanted to go again.”

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Mrs. Drake won 55 percent of the vote over Mr. Ashe, who received 45 percent.

House Speaker William J. Howell said yesterday he and the Republican caucus will support the Republican nominee. The Stafford County Republican, who opposed the tax-increase package, did not say whether he would like to see an anti-tax candidate.

“I hope it will be someone who will represent the area well,” he said. “I hope we can get somebody half as good as Thelma.”

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, can call for a special election before the legislative session begins Jan. 12. Republicans speculate the special election might be held Jan. 4. Mr. Warner’s office said yesterday the governor is waiting for Mrs. Drake’s resignation before he schedules the election.

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