Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Virginians head to the polls Tuesday to select the Democratic nominee for governor, a pivotal choice in the party’s quest to retain control of the governor’s mansion, in a race that has inspired a trio of candidates to campaign feverishly up to election day.

Primary voters also will choose several nominees for the House of Delegates, races that in some districts could help the party wrest control of the House from Republicans in November, but the main draw continued to be the gubernatorial nomination.

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds built further momentum on his late May turnaround and increased his lead in the polls over former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and former Delegate Brian J. Moran.

As of Sunday, Mr. Deeds had taken a commanding lead over the other two candidates, according to a poll by Public Policy Polling, a nonpartisan firm based in Raleigh, N.C. Mr. Deeds had 40 percent, followed by Mr. McAuliffe at 26 percent and Mr. Moran at 24 percent.

The central theme of the race has been whether two local candidates from different parts of the state can beat a well-heeled national figure with statewide name recognition. Polling figures have been back-and-forth, with Mr. Deeds surging in the past several weeks.

Over the weekend, the candidates unfolded their television blitzes. Mr. Deeds highlighted his experience and recent endorsement by The Washington Post, while the McAuliffe campaign stressed its candidate’s ability to create jobs. They concentrated their spots in Northern Virginia. Mr. Moran did not run ads in Northern Virginia but focused in other areas of Virginia.

Even the eventual winner’s Republican opponent in November, former State Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, ran television spots focusing on his promise to create jobs. He accepted his party’s uncontested nomination at its convention last month.

On Monday, Mr. Deeds made stops in central Virginia, beginning the day in Danville and finishing with a rally at his campaign headquarters in Charlottesville. Mr. McAuliffe started the day in Norfolk, made a stop in Richmond and finished the day in Alexandria. Mr. Moran held an election rally in Alexandria.

For all of the candidates’ campaigning, however, few voters were expected at the polls.

“There are so few people going to the polls that voter turnout could be critical going into the primary,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. With regard to House of Delegate seats, he said, the primary “may be it, if the other side has no candidate or a weak candidate.”

State Board of Elections Secretary Nancy Rodrigues said that as few as 3 percent of the state’s 5.8 million registered voters were expected to participate. The state has an open primary, which means a voter can cast a ballot in either the Democratic or Republican primary but not both. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Additionally, voters are set to decide between either A. Michael Signer, a national security specialist and Democratic strategist, or former Finance Secretary Jody M. Wagner to face the incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

While neither has run for statewide office, both have been involved in politics. Mrs. Wagner was the state treasurer under Gov. Mark Warner and then finance secretary for Gov. Tim Kaine. Mr. Signer was Mr. Warner’s deputy counselor and a policy adviser for the Obama and Edwards presidential campaigns, as well as a senior strategist for Rep. Tom Perriello.

The focus of the election has been primarily on who will win the gubernatorial nomination, but taking the House of Delegates is seen as a crucial part of the Democratic strategy. Retaining control of the House is important to Republicans, who lost control of the U.S. Senate seats and have dealt with Democratic governors continually since Mr. Warner’s victory in 2001.

Because Republicans control the House, “even if a Democratic governor is elected, the person can’t do much,” Mr. Tobias said. Democratic leadership has concentrated on getting out strong candidates to take on Republicans in areas where there is a chance of winning, he said.

In contested primary races, Northern Virginia candidates are vying to represent the 35th, 38th, 47th and 52nd legislative districts. The majority of those seats have long been in Democratic hands; however, two Democratic candidates are angling for the slot to represent the 52nd District in Prince William County, which is the seat that Republican Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick is giving up.

Mr. Frederick was the Republican Party chairman until he was ousted in April and has said he won’t run for re-election. Rafael Lopez, who works for a federal contractor in public health information, is the Republican candidate hoping to replace Mr. Frederick.

“I think it would probably remain in Republican hands but it depends upon the quality of the Democrat,” Mr. Tobias said.

Democrats Michael A. Hodge, a former Marine and Secret Service agent, and pastor Luke E. Torian are competing to be the Democratic nominee. Mr. Hodge is a lawyer and entrepreneur with a background in public safety. Mr. Torian has been an activist in Prince William. He is one of the founding members of a faith-based group that works to provide dental care, access to housing and English education for those in need.

While the outcome for that race may be up for grabs, “in the vast majority of the cases, they are choosing the November winner since our House of Delegates districts are so badly gerrymandered,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

With Delegate Stephen C. Shannon giving up his seat to run as the Democratic candidate for attorney general, four candidates are running to become the Democratic delegate nominee. The 35th District encompasses parts of Fairfax County, including much of the Tysons Corner corridor. Lawyers Roy J. Baldwin, John F. Carroll and Mark L. Keam, along with Esam S. Omeish, a surgeon, are competing there.

Mr. Baldwin has served on several Vienna boards and commissions and is the at-large board member of the Vienna-Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Carroll is a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney. Mr. Keam has worked for the Federal Communications Commission and as chief counsel to Sen. Richard J. Durbin on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Omeish has served as the chief of general surgery at Inova Alexandria Hospital. He resigned from the Virginia Commission on Immigration after controversial comments he’d made became public. The winner would face lawyer James E. Hyland, the Republican candidate.

In the 38th District, Democratic incumbent Delegate Robert D. “Bob” Hull, who has 17 years in the House of Delegates, is facing a challenge by L. Kaye Kory, who has served on the Fairfax County School Board for 10 years.

No Republican candidates have qualified in that race, according to the State Board of Elections.

Voters also must decide who will replace retiring Democratic Delegate Albert C. Eisenberg, who has represented the 47th District since 2004. Patrick A. Hope, Alan E. Howze, Miles F. Grant, Adam J. Parkhomenko and Andres Tobar are running to replace the Arlington delegate.

Mr. Hope is the director of legislative policy at the American College of Cardiology and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Mr. Howze is a consultant for IBM and has worked for Rep. Rick Boucher and as an adviser to Mr. Warner before Mr. Warner was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Grant works for the National Wildlife Federation and blogs on his site the Green Miles. Mr. Parkhomenko has worked as an analyst at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He previously worked as an aide to now Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, during her run for president. Mr. Tobar runs a day laborer center in Shirlington. He is former director and chief executive of the National Association of Hispanic Publications, a District-based nonprofit.

No Republicans have qualified in that race, according to the State Board of Elections, which puts much emphasis on the primary.

“Once somebody gets in nine times out of 10, they are in until they retire. If you make a mistake, you are stuck with that mistake for years and years because incumbency carries them,” Mr. Sabato said.

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