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Style may trump substance in GOP vote for Virginia lieutenant governor

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With a slew of candidates who many in Virginia still don't know much about, the wide open contest for the Republican nomination to be the state's next lieutenant governor may actually come down to style over substance.

A small sample of the party's most ardent activists will choose among seven hopefuls at this weekend's nominating convention. And for the handful of current and former legislators and two political neophytes in the running, that means there's been more of an emphasis on local committee meet-and-greets than lofty policy speeches intended to attract a broader swath of the electorate.

"There's very little that separates the candidates," said Shaun Kenney, chairman of the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors and a former spokesman for the state GOP. "Truth be told, it's really not the message — it's who can deliver the message well."

Indeed, the state legislators in the race are Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William County and Sen. Stephen H. Martin of Chesterfied, both of whom were honored by the American Conservative Union this week for their voting records during the 2013 General Assembly session.

Susan B. Stimpson, chairman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, and Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors will both try to pitch their local know-how as solid preparation for Richmond. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis is a former state delegate and senator and the wife of former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, still an influential moderate Republican voice in the state.

Bishop E.W. Jackson of Chesapeake raised eyebrows during last year's U.S. Senate race. Businessman Pete Snyder headed up the GOP's coordinated campaign during last year's elections; his latest venture, begun last year, is an angel investment company called Disruptor Capital.

"All the candidates are demonstrably strong candidates, so I don't have any doubt that we'll have a conservative nominee for lieutenant governor," said Morton Blackwell, Virginia's Republican national committeeman.

But, Mr. Kenney said, the candidates won't be chosen for the policy positions they could push in office or the direction in which they might take the party. Rather, it comes down to two main criteria: who will do the least damage to the ticket and who will best complement it.

Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Stimpson, for example, have generated enthusiasm as fresh faces but are less capable of self-financing a campaign than Mr. Snyder, Mrs. Davis, or Mr. Stewart, who has the most cash on hand. In terms of complementing a ticket, Mr. Jackson is the only black candidate running statewide for the GOP, and Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Stimpson are the only two women.

But Quentin Kidd, a political-science professor at Christopher Newport University, said Mr. Snyder, Mr. Lingamfelter and Mr. Stewart are three to watch, and such demographic calculus about ticket-balancing isn't likely to come into play.

"If there was evidence there was that kind of thinking [among] the delegates, then we would already see that in the Stimpson or Davis campaigns," he said.

GOP delegates will also have a choice between two state legislators, Delegate Robert B. Bell of Albemarle and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain of Harrisonburg, as their nominee for attorney general. Both were deemed a "Defender of Liberty" this week by the American Conservative Union — the highest award bestowed by the group.

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