- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Virginia Democrats, aiming to capitalize on the Republican Party’s recent split over tax increases, will put up more candidates this year for the House races.

Kerry J. Donley, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said the party will use the Republican differences to try to gain seats in the House, where all 100 delegates are up for re-election.

“We’ll have more candidates in 2005 than we did in 2003,” Mr. Donley said. “We anticipate picking up seats in November.”

In 2003, 61 of 100 House seats were uncontested. Republicans ran 38 races with no Democratic challenger, and Democrats ran 23 races with no Republican opponent. That year, Democrats gained four seats in the House, the party’s first gains in decades.

Democrats now hold 37 seats, Republicans hold 60 seats and there are two independents. There is one open seat, which will be filled in a special election later this month.

The primaries in Virginia are June 14.

In the primaries, anti-tax groups want to unseat several Republican delegates, who voted in support of a $1.38 billion tax increase last year.

The expected fierce primary battles will make it “difficult” for Republicans to defend at least a handful of seats, Mr. Donley said. “Our party goes into the November elections in a real position of strength,” he said.

Anti-tax Republican House leaders say, however, their party is unified going into the primary elections.

“We are a team. We are united,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford County Republican. “[The tax fight] is behind us.”

Challengers already have popped up around the state.

Chris Craddock, 26, is running against Delegate Gary A. Reese, of Fairfax County, who was one of the Republicans who joined Democrats to pass the tax increase last year.

“He has called for numerous tax increases,” Mr. Craddock said. “Right now, we get so little money back on every dollar we send down to Richmond, and [tax increases] make it harder and harder to raise a family in this area.”

Mr. Craddock is director of student ministries at the King’s Chapel, a nondenominational Christian church in Fairfax. He said he expects some public support from state Republicans, but “a number of people are rooting for me in the background.”

Chris Oprison will run as an anti-tax Republican for the seat held by Delegate Joe T. May, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. Mr. May, Leesburg Republican, who voted in support of the tax increase, is not stepping down from his House seat.

Mr. Donley said Democratic candidates will use Gov. Mark Warner’s popularity as an advantage in their campaigns.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat who is in his final year in office, told The Washington Times last month he will help his party’s candidates campaign this year. He attributes the lopsided Republican majority to redistricting.

“Virginia is a Republican state, but it’s not a 2-to-1 Republican state,” Mr. Warner said. “The party in power has drawn lines to protect themselves.”

Still, the governor said he is “optimistic” about gaining seats.

It is not known how many candidates will challenge incumbents in either party.

Since the 2005 legislative session adjourned last month in Richmond, several delegates have said they do not intend to seek re-election, leaving the field open for both parties in the primary.

In addition, there will be a special election March 22 for a House seat vacated by Fenton L. Bland Jr. , the Petersburg Democrat who resigned in January after pleading guilty to felony bank-fraud conspiracy related to his funeral-home business.

Former Petersburg Mayor Rosalyn R. Dance is running as a Democrat. Bland defeated her for the House seat in 2001. Andrea G. Sims is running as a Republican. Michael W. Bratschi, who sought the Republican nomination, will run as an independent.

The winner of the special election must run for re-election in November.

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