Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Lt. Gov. John H. Hager said yesterday hes in the race for the Republican nomination for Virginia governor to stay.
Mr. Hager had been considering dropping out of the contest to again seek the nomination for his current office — something that some Republicans had urged him to do for party unity — but his decision yesterday sets up a monthlong competition for the heart of the party.
Mr. Hager faces Attorney General Mark L. Earley in a nominating convention on June 2 in Richmond. He trails Mr. Earley by a wide margin in the number of committed delegates each has lined up for the convention, but he said yesterday he still has a chance to convince enough delegates to support him to win the nomination.
“Lets talk issues. Lets get on with governing. Lets have merit decide our elections the old-fashioned Virginia way,” he said, challenging Mr. Earley to debates leading up to the convention as a way to highlight the differences between them.
The two are vying for the chance to face Mark R. Warner, the Democrat who is running unopposed for his partys nomination for governor. Mr. Warner has already begun to air television commercials for the campaign, and the uncertainty of who the Republican nominee will be makes it tougher for party strategists to respond.
The chance for Mr. Hager to run again for his current office opened up April 28, when the state partys central committee realized they had violated the rules in advertising the convention. They had to re-advertise the convention and open up the process again, allowing new candidates to join the race or current candidates to register for a different race.
Mr. Hager traveled the state, surveying supporters to see what they thought he should do. He said yesterday that most of them told him to stay in the governors race.
“Republicans said that to win in November, we need a true, consistent conservative at the top of the ticket. They said they wanted me to run for governor, and win,” Mr. Hager said.
But Mr. Hager also found that he might have had a tough time gaining the nomination for the lieutenant governors slot. Several party leaders supporting him for governor are already committed to Delegate Jay Katzen, the man currently unopposed for the lieutenant governors nomination. Many said they couldnt abandon Mr. Katzen even if Mr. Hager dropped back to run against him.
Mr. Katzen was unavailable for comment yesterday because he was spending time with the family of Jennifer C. Byler, a prominent Republican activist who died in a boating accident over the weekend.
Quintin Kendall, Mr. Earleys political director, said yesterdays announcement doesnt change things for the Earley campaign.
“We would have been surprised if the dynamics of this race had changed in the final month of this process,” he said.
He said they will wait to see what sort of debates Mr. Hager has in mind. But he said the entire convention process has already been about debate, with dozens of local meetings where delegates are selected and both men appear together to make their pitch for support.
More than 25,000 delegates signed up for the June 2 convention, though both sides acknowledge that many of those people wont show up. The battle for each campaign now is to turn out their hard-core supporters.
One question for the lieutenant governor is how his parliamentary rulings last month and again yesterday, in which he rejected House Republicans car-tax-rebate plans, will affect him among the party faithful.
To that end, Mr. Hager pointedly declared his support for a 70 percent rebate this year. But he echoed a message Mr. Warner has been saying when he said with better management the choice wouldnt be tax cuts or spending, but could be tax cuts and spending.

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