- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

It’s become clear that Virginia’s gubernatorial election between former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore and Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine will not be the only state race between a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat this year. Virginia Republicans should be delighted by the news that Leslie Byrne, a liberal politician who previously served in the House of Delegates, the state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor this month with approximately 35 percent of the vote.

Overthepastfew decades,Virginiahas evolved into a “red” Southern state, a place that is not ordinarily hospitable to liberals. Even in 2001, when the top two candidates on the Republican ticket imploded, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mark Warner was elected with a modest 52 percent of the vote, and Mr. Kaine was elected lieutenant governor with 50.5 percent of the vote. But Mr. Kilgore won a 20-point landslide over his Democratic foe in the attorney general race.

In a worst-case scenario for the Democrats, the volatile Mrs. Byrne is the sort of combative liberal who could help produce that kind of result this year. First elected to the House of Delegates in 1985, she was re-elected several times before getting elected to Congress in 1992. In 1994, Mrs. Byrne, who voted for President Clinton’s tax increase the year before, was defeated for re-election by Tom Davis. In 1996, when Mr. Warner defeated Mrs. Byrne for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate (Mr. Warner lost to incumbent Republican Sen. John Warner) she threatened to challenge Democratic Party caucus results. In 1999, she was elected to the Virginia Senate, only to have her seat carved up in redistricting legislation passed by the Republican-dominated legislature, where Mrs. Byrne was not terribly well-liked.

Politically, she is best-known for her support of abortion rights and homosexual rights. Last year, Mrs. Byrne, 58, served as state director of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. In any number of ways, she is a dream candidate for Virginia Republicans.

Her GOP opponent, state Sen. Bill Bolling of Hanover, could hardly be more of a contrast. Mr. Bolling, 47, stood firm last year against tax increases pushed by Gov. Warner and Senate Republicans led by Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester. Mr. Bolling has fought to eliminate the hated state car tax. He has supported limits on abortion, is opposed to state social-welfare benefits for illegal aliens and opposes homosexual “marriage.”

The campaign for attorney general also provides a pair of starkly different candidates: Republican Del. Robert McDonnell of Virginia Beach and state Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County. Like his Republican ticket mates, Messrs. Kilgore and Bolling, Mr. McDonnell is a solid conservative. Mr. Deeds talks tough about fighting crime and boasts of his support from the NRA; but when push comes to shove, he leans to the left. Currently, he is attacking Mr. McDonnell for opposing last year’s $1.38 billion state tax increase. Mr. McDonnell would do well to remind voters of Mr. Deeds’ aggressive defense of higher estate taxes; his earlier denunciations of Republicans for supporting legislation banning homosexual “marriage” and his support for abortion rights and a death-penalty moratorium.

Virginia Democrats have nominated a ticket Republicans can feel good about running against.

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