- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Conservative Republicans, fed up with Sen. John H. Chichester’s habit of selling them out on taxes, say they are aggressively pursuing a candidate to unseat him in the Republican primary.

Robin DeJarnette, president of the Virginia Conservative Action PAC, told The Washington Times that conservatives are looking for someone who would focus on the Stafford County Republican’s record of abandoning the conservative tenets of lower taxes and less government. Republicans tried to oust Mr. Chichester, who has been a state senator since 1978, with a conservative challenger in the 2003 primary.

“He is not loyal to the party, he is not loyal to principle, he is not loyal to the transportation crisis, he is loyal to himself,” Mrs. DeJarnette said. “Without a doubt any conservative candidate that runs against Chichester, we will be behind them 100 percent, [and] after this week, absolutely he would be the No. 1 target.”

Mike D. Wade, chairman of the 3rd Congressional District Republican Committee, told The Times he would “absolutely” help someone run against Mr. Chichester in the June primary.

“Chichester and his cohorts are the reason the Republican message has been lost and diluted in Virginia,” he wrote in a recent letter to the political Web log www.baconsrebellion.com. “If we are to maintain a majority based on Republican principles and the understanding of who owns the government, then we must work statewide to remove this pariah.”

Mr. Chichester did not return several calls seeking comment. The frustration among conservatives reached a new peak after Mr. Chichester and eight other Senate Finance Committee members last week replaced the fragile Republican transportation compromise that would have, among other things, boosted car registration fees and raised the tax on diesel fuel with a plan that included a 5 percent sales tax on gasoline. That plan died earlier this week.

“To me it is the last straw,” Mr. Wade told The Times. “You have to get rid of the problem at its core, and Senator Chichester is the core.”

Republican insiders say the move also strained his relationship with his senior Republican allies in the Senate who backed Mr. Chichester’s previous efforts to raise taxes for transportation. Insiders say with the elections later this year, those allies decided that they were better off hashing out a transportation compromise with House Republican leaders.

“He threw his allies under the bus,” said Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican who opposed Mr. Chichester’s plan.

Though Mr. Chichester’s push for a different transportation bill fell short, conservative Republicans and the blogosphere sounded eager to tee off on him and his soft-on-taxes allies again.

Over the past week, Republicans accused Mr. Chichester of “taking a baseball bat to the Republican Party,” being a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and “Virginia’s most liberal state senator.”

Russ Moulton, chairman of the 1st Congressional District Republican Committee that represents Mr. Chichester’s 28th Senatorial District, said he was “disappointed” the senator did not support the transportation compromise but declined to say whether he supports the push to defeat Mr. Chichester in the Republican primary.

Robert Hunt, chairman of the Stafford County Republican Party, said Republican leaders from the 28th Senatorial District will meet later this month to discuss whether it’s time to go after Mr. Chichester’s seat again.

“Clearly the conservative wing of the Republican Party in the state would like for someone to run against John in a primary,” Mr. Hunt said. The incumbent “is testing people’s patience who have never been tested before.”

Republicans said Virginia’s open primary system, which allows any voter to participate, is a major obstacle in attempts to oust Mr. Chichester. Opponents of the system say it helps Republicans like Mr. Chichester who rely on the support of Democratic and independent crossover voters in the primary election.

“The problem is the party faithful [in the district] are about 20 percent Republican, 20 percent Democrat and 60 percent unaffiliated,” Mr. Hunt said. “That 60 percent is probably where John’s base is.”

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