- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Tricia Stall’s recent Republican primary victory over Sen. Marty E. Williams in the far-flung Tidewater district is having ramifications across Virginia, with anti-tax conservatives cheering, centrist Republicans stewing and Democrats optimistic about their chances of winning the Senate.

“This creates another battleground for us,” said state Sen. Robert Creigh Deeds, Bath County Democrat. “Miss Stall is a person who, at least from what she has said publicly, seems to be a pretty extreme candidate. It throws that district into play.”

Even some Republicans predict Miss Stall’s victory improves the Democrats’ chances of taking what was thought to be a safe seat — edging them toward the four seats they need to control the Senate in the November general election, when all 140 lawmakers are up for re-election.

“It jeopardizes the Republican majority in the Senate, very definitely,” said state Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax County Republican.

Democrats hoping to win a Senate majority are focusing their resources on about a dozen seats — eight of which are held by Republicans.

Before the primary, Democrats had no plans of fielding a candidate against Mr. Williams in the 1st Senate District, which includes parts of Newport News, Hampton and the Republican strongholds of York County and Poquoson.

Now Democrats say Miss Stall — unlike her predecessor — is too far to the right for mainstream Virginians and are quick to point out she signed a pledge with a group known as the Alliance for the Separation of School and State to support “ending government involvement in education.” She also signed a no-new tax pledge and said she “will never support any legislation that infringes upon our Second Amendment rights.”

“This renews our ability to compete in a district that was otherwise uncompetitive,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat.

Control of the Senate is seen as crucial, because winners this fall will work with the governor and state delegates elected in 2009 to redraw the legislative and congressional voting districts in 2011.

Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 1999 — the first time since Reconstruction — and used their majority in 2001 to push through a historic redistricting plan.Since then, their map-making prowess has paid off, helping them keep Republican majorities and protect incumbents.

Before leaving for a job at the White House, state Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie warned the prospects would be grim if Democrats controlled redistricting.

“They will redraw the district lines for the United States House of Representative and hand [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Howard Dean and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi up to four new Democrat seats in Congress,” he said in a fundraising letter.

Mr. Williams‘ loss came in a primary season that featured battles between the anti-tax wing of the party and incumbent state senators who sided with Democrats in 2004 to enact former Gov. Mark Warner’s $1.38 billion tax increase.

Mike Wade, Stall supporter and 3rd District Republican Committee chairman, said Democrats had not planned to challenge Mr. Williams because he was one of the Republicans who crossed party lines.

Mr. Williams, chairman of the powerful Transportation Committee, was one of two moderate Republicans to fall. J. Brandon Bell II, Roanoke Republican, was the other.

This month’s primary was the second consecutive primary in which anti-tax conservatives attacked incumbents who supported the 2004 tax increase. In 2005, anti-tax groups tried to unseat six delegates who supported the tax increase. One conservative, Chris Craddock, won, knocking out a Republican delegate in the primary. But he lost the general election to Democrat Chuck Caputo in the 67th District, which includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

Republicans hope to avoid a repeat this year.

“The [anti-tax conservatives] can have a lot of influence in a small turnout primary, but they tend to get swallowed up in the General Election,” Mr. Callahan said.

Mr. Wade said he is not too concerned about a Democratic challenge to Miss Stall. “I think the governor would be better off spending his money somewhere else,” he said. “We will protect this seat.”