- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 6, 2008

Virginia Republican Party Chairman John H. Hager was doing pretty well.

His son is engaged to marry one of the daughters of the president of the United States next month, the top of his party’s ticket is set more than a year from the gubernatorial elections, and he was expected to handily win re-election as state GOP chairman.

Then in January, Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William Republican, declared his candidacy for the leadership of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV).

What’s followed has been an unusually contentious campaign between the 71-year-old former lieutenant governor and the 32-year-old sophomore delegate from Prince William County that has threatened to divide party members who had finally appeared to heed repeated calls for unity.

In the latest clash, Mr. Hager last week criticized Mr. Frederick for falsely claiming endorsements from General Assembly members.

The criticism came after Mr. Frederick spent weeks highlighting Mr. Hager’s service as homeland security director in the Democratic administration of former Gov. Mark R. Warner, criticizing Mr. Hager’s leadership of the party and questioning Mr. Hager’s trustworthiness on pro-life issues.

“For the last few weeks, I have listened to accusations from Jeff Frederick about my leadership, the staff at RPV, the district leaders that support my re-election, and my allegiance to this party,” Mr. Hager wrote in an e-mail to supporters.

“Each of his accusations is laughable, and we dismissed them as his typical rant. But when he is willing to blatantly mislead Republicans in Virginia by claiming false endorsements, enough is enough,” the e-mail read.

Mr. Frederick acknowledged two of the endorsements he touted were “mistakes” attributable to a “clerical error.” In another case, he said Sen. Frank Wagner, Virginia Beach Republican, withdrew his endorsement after Mr. Wagner learned Mr. Frederick had said that he would support all Republicans running in nominating contests and not just incumbents.

The race between Mr. Frederick and Mr. Hager, who won the seat in a special election last year, will be decided at the party convention in Richmond scheduled for May 30-31 — about three weeks after Mr. Hager’s son, Henry, is scheduled to marry President Bush’s daughter Jenna.

The winner of the race will lead a party that has seen three chairmen in less than three years and struggled in recent elections — losing the last two gubernatorial races, a U.S. Senate seat and control of the Virginia Senate, in large part as a result of differences between the party’s moderate and conservative wings over taxes.

They also will lead Republicans into the U.S. Senate race this year against Mr. Warner and a presidential race in which Virginia is a potential swing state.

Some characterize the race as a battle between the “old guard” and the “new guard.”

Christian J. Schoenewald, Albemarle County Republican Party chairman, said supporters of Mr. Hager tend to have “faith that the party can be re-established through the old ways,” while Mr. Frederick’s backers tend to think it’s time for a “compete rebuild of the Republican Party of Virginia.”

By most accounts, Mr. Frederick has been the aggressor in the campaign. He has used comments from Mr. Hager’s failed 1992 bid for party chairman, in which Mr. Hager’s supporters suggested that his rival, Richmond lawyer Patrick M. McSweeney, was an extremist for accepting fundraising support from television evangelist Pat Robertson.

“Hager has been critical of pro-life leaders in the past,” said John Pudner, a Frederick campaign spokesman.

“I think he knows it, and I think he will go out of his way now to say, ‘I am pro-life’,” he said.

Some fear the campaign’s tone will undercut the unified front the party stressed when Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced on March 25 he would run for re-election as lieutenant governor, rather than fight Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell to be the party’s nominee for governor in 2009.

Mike Wade, chairman of the 3rd Congressional District Republican Committee and a Hager supporter, said he felt he had to remind Mr. Frederick at one point, “This is not a Republican versus a Democrat here. This is two Republicans.”

Several congressional district chairmen said Mr. Frederick faces an uphill battle, but they do not underestimate the Prince William Republican’s ability to win in tough environments — a tribute to his victories in what is considered a Democratic-leaning district.

“Frederick is a rising star, he is just in the wrong race,” said David Avella, chairman of the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee.

Tom Kopko, Prince William County Republican Party chairman, said “Jeff will take on the status quo and is not afraid to call a spade a spade.”

Thomas E. Foley, 1st Congressional District Republican Committee chairman, said he was surprised by the amount of campaign literature and money being poured into the race.

“It’s a full-fledged campaign,” he said.

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