- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

State Sen. John H. Chichester’s decision to retire has given conservative Republicans their first real chance in years to fill the seat with one of their anti-tax allies this fall.

“It’s big,” said Robin DeJarnette, president of the Virginia Conservative Action PAC, referring to Mr. Chichester’s retirement. “It’s something that we have been working very hard on.”

Mr. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, often broke from his party’s conservative anti-tax platform and sided with Democrats to push for tax increases. Conservative Republicans say now that Mr. Chichester is retiring, they can find a candidate who would keep taxes low.

Several conservative Republicans already consider John Van Hoy, a Stafford businessman and former chairman ofthe county’s Republican Party, as a front-runner to replace Mr. Chichester.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for conservatives to change the dynamic of the Senate and part the 28th Senatorial District that has wandered away from the conservative message,” said Mr. Van Hoy, the only candidate to file paperwork so far with the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Other Republicans considering a potential bid include state Delegate Robert J. Wittman of Montross; Joe Graziano, a Stafford business owner; and Cord Sterling, first vice chairman of the Republican Party of Stafford County.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William County said he was encouraged to seek the nomination, but declined.

Mr. Chichester’s announcement followed those of Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax County Republican, and Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, who said they also were stepping down.

Their retirements represent a changing of the guard at a pivotal time in Virginia politics.

Democrats are making a concerted effort to reclaim a state Senate majority for the first time in 12 years, and Republicans are trying to retain control of the House and Senate. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election this fall.

“This will be a donnybrook come November,” Mr. Potts said.

Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, has shied away from supporting one Republican candidate over another before the nominating process, but has criticized those who Republicans think sold out the party, especially on tax issues.

After Mr. Potts and Mr. Chichester announced their retirements, Mr. Gillespie said both men “obviously looking forward to being” former senators “and a lot of people are sharing that sentiment with” them.

“I’m confident we will hold seats,” he had said.

Russ Moulton, chairman of the 1st Congressional District Republican Committee, which includes Mr. Chichester’s 28th Senatorial District, said local Republicans will select the party’s nominee through a party convention sometime later this year.

“I think the Republicans of the district are really ready for a debate on the right role of the government and the right direction of our state government,” Mr. Moulton said. “We will be able to decide, are we going to continue to tax and spend, tax and spend, or if we truly are going to rein in spending and limit government.”

Mr. Moulton said the convention process ensures that Democrats don’t have influence over picking the party’s nominee. Under Virginia’s open-primary system, opposing parties can vote in each other’s primary elections.

Mr. Chichester’s somewhat unexpected retirement sparked a rift between different factions of the local Republican Party.

Bob Hunt, chairman of the Republican Party of Stafford County, requested the 28th Senate District Republican Committee to reconsider holding a primary instead of a party convention. But, according to state law and state party bylaws, the request came too late, Mr. Moulton said.

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