- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2001

RICHMOND Twenty-three candidates are competing in nine Republican House of Delegates primaries while Democrats, in the unfamiliar role as the minority party, watch from the sidelines.
The elections, normally held in June, were moved this year to Aug. 21 because of legislative redistricting. Four Republican incumbents face intraparty challenges; the other five primaries are in open districts. There are no contested Democratic races.
Republicans say they are attracting a lot of candidates because people like playing for a winning team. The GOP took undisputed control of the General Assembly in the 1999 elections and holds every statewide office.
"It's a sign of a strong, growing, vibrant party," said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state GOP. "The Republican nomination is worth an awful lot, and since it's worth so much, there are plenty of people interested in running."
Democrats offer a different view. G. Baker Ellett, director of the House Democratic Caucus, said the contests reflect discord within the GOP over the way its officeholders have governed. He said some Republican activists were especially upset over the 2001 General Assembly's budget impasse.
Robert Holsworth, director of Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Public Policy, said there is some merit in both analyses.
"On one hand, the Republican Party in the General Assembly is where the action is now. They have the majority and they're likely to extend it. People are much more eager to be seeking the nomination at the moment," Mr. Holsworth said.
"On the other hand … there are divisions within the party, and this is being reflected in challenges to some of the party's more eminent individuals."
Among the Republican incumbents with primary opponents are J.A. "Jack" Rollison III of Prince William County, co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and Jeannemarie A. Devolites of Fairfax County, who is widely viewed as a potential future candidate for higher office.
First-term Delegates John J. Welch of Virginia Beach and Phil E. Larrabee Jr. of Poquoson also face primary opponents.
Mrs. Devolites' opponent, Arthur G. Purves, agreed with Mr. Holsworth that Republicans and Democrats alike make valid points about the factors behind the number of Republican candidates.
"They're both right and they're both consistent," said Mr. Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance.
However, it wasn't the budget impasse that motivated Mr. Purves to run. He said he is upset because many Northern Virginia Republicans are supporting legislation to create regional transportation taxing districts, subject to voter approval.
And what about the lack of Democratic contests?
Mr. Matricardi said the once-dominant Democrats are so demoralized by their recent string of losses that they're struggling to find anyone to run. Mr. Ellett said the party is avoiding potentially divisive nominating battles, conserving resources for the general election.
"I've always taken the approach in candidate recruitment to get everybody in the room and work out who's going to run," he said. "Working it out internally is always the first step."
Mr. Holsworth said fewer Democrats are interested in running because new districts were drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature to benefit the GOP.
"It's a recognition of the reality that for the foreseeable future, the Republicans will control," he said. "Redistricting was brutally effective."
The House has 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents, including one who is closely allied with the GOP.

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