- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

With one notable exception, Republican voters in Virginia renominated incumbents despite strong challenges within the party.

But some of the narrow victories sent a strong message to elected officials that the voters are not going to tolerate any tax increases.

“This was the first election cycle for us, and we are very excited, because we had one actual huge victory, and other moral victories,” said Peter Ferrara, president of Virginia Club for Growth, an organization that opposes tax increases.

“Imagine what we can do next time,” he said.

The club pitted four of its candidates against four Republican incumbents who supported last fall’s transportation referendum and voted to halt the full car-tax repeal in 2001.

State Sens. John H. Chichester of Fredericksburg, Thomas K. Norment Jr. of Williamsburg, and H. Russell Potts Jr. of Winchester survived challenges from the club’s candidates in Tuesday’s primaries.

However, House Transportation Committee Chairman John A. “Jack” Rollison III, of Prince William County, lost to political newcomer Jeffrey Frederick, a small-business owner from Springfield. With all precincts reporting, Mr. Frederick defeated Mr. Rollison, 58 percent to 42 percent.

“We took our message of lower taxes, defending life and defending the Constitution to the people, who are now ready for more accountable representation in Richmond,” Mr. Frederick said.

An 18-year incumbent, Mr. Rollison was the lead architect of last year’s regional transportation referendum. Voters in nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions and Hampton Roads were asked to approve a sales-tax increase. The increase would have funded transportation projects that were aimed at easing gridlock in those areas. But the referendum failed at the polls.

Mr. Rollison, who did not return repeated telephone calls to his office and cell phone yesterday, told the Associated Press Tuesday night he failed to convince voters that he understood their anger and frustration with higher taxes.

“There’s a strong undercurrent of voters that were upset with the transportation initiative that was on the ballot last year,” Mr. Rollison said. “I made every effort I could but was not able to overcome their anger.”

Mr. Frederick said Mr. Rollison was “very graceful” in his concession call and offered to help in the campaign. Mr. Frederick is expected to face Democrat Charles Taylor in the Nov. 4 general election.

Some have speculated the region might lose out on transportation funds or projects now that Mr. Rollison is gone. But Mr. Frederick assured voters this would not happen.

“I think we need to devise a new formula on how we fund the transportation trust fund as it relates to the district,” he said. “Also, I want to work with the federal government to see if there is a way we can get some of these federal employees off the road so much, maybe look into telecommuting or construction of satellite offices so people are driving five minutes as opposed to an hour to work.”

Mr. Chichester, the top-ranking Senate Republican, defeated challenger Mike Rothfield, a political consultant from Stafford, by a 2-to-1 margin. Mr. Norment defeated real estate mogul Paul Jost, winning 62 percent of the vote.

In Winchester, Mr. Potts barely withstood a ferocious challenge from restaurant owner Mark Tate. With all precincts reporting, the two men are separated by just 106 votes out of the 14,884 cast. Like the Rollison-Frederick race, this contest focused primarily on taxes and last year’s referendum.

Mr. Tate, who has not conceded defeat, is considering asking for a recount. “All the people who worked so hard for me have asked me to do this, and I feel I owe it to them,” Mr. Tate said. “I have not decided yet what I am going to do, though.”

Mr. Potts said he is confident a recount would bring about the same results. He credited his opponent with better organizational skills in bringing out voters during a June primary, but said ultimately the race for the party’s nomination was a repudiation of nasty campaigning. The Potts-Tate race had been one of the more contentious races statewide.

“They threw everything at us but the kitchen sink. It was one of the slimiest campaigns in Shenandoah Valley politics ever,” Mr. Potts said. “But a win is a win, and 25 years from now, there will not be an asterisk next to my name saying I only won by 106 votes. It will just say I won.”

Mr. Ferrara said he hopes Mr. Potts heard the voters’ message about lower taxes. But he said if Mr. Potts didn’t, then the Club for Growth will support another candidate against him when he again seeks re-election.

“It’s a wake-up call for him, but I don’t know if he will answer it,” he said.

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