- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

RICHMOND | One is running as a fresh face who wants to turn the lieutenant governor into “the people’s advocate.” The other touts her seven years minding the state’s money in the last two Democratic administrations.

Virginia voters will decide Tuesday whether A. Michael Signer, a national security expert and Democratic strategist, or former Finance Secretary Jody M. Wagner will face Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, as he seeks a second term in November.

Neither has ever run a statewide campaign, although Mrs. Wagner lost a bid for Congress in Hampton Roads in 2000. But to call them political newcomers would be a mistake.

Mrs. Wagner, 53, served as state treasurer under former Gov. Mark Warner, then as finance secretary for Gov. Tim Kaine.

Mr. Signer, 36, was a deputy counselor to Mr. Warner, a policy adviser for Barack Obama’s and John Edwards’ presidential campaigns, and a senior strategist for Rep. Tom Perriello, Virginia Democrat, who narrowly beat six-term congressman Virgil H. Goode Jr., a Republican, last year.

Neither candidate has served in the legislature, although the only constitutional duties of the lieutenant governor are to preside over the Senate and break tie votes. Democrats outnumber Republicans 21-19 in the chamber.

The primary race has received little attention behind a packed field for the gubernatorial nod, but whether that’s a bad thing depends on which candidate you ask.

Mrs. Wagner said she wished more people were paying attention to the race, because the recognition could help in what is expected to be a low-turnout primary.

Mr. Signer, of Arlington County, said flying under the radar suits him just fine.

“The nature of the race has fit the nature of my campaign, which is a scrappy, insurgent campaign that’s been based on talking about the future rather than about the past and talking about ideas rather than about campaign finance figures or political endorsements,” he said.

While Mr. Signer has picked up endorsements from several unions and from former presidential candidate and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, Mrs. Wagner has the blessing of many Democratic officeholders.

She has raised more than $1.1 million while Mr. Signer has brought in $390,000.

One thing Mrs. Wagner and Mr. Signer agree upon: They claim Mr. Bolling has not made the most of his four years in office.

Mr. Signer called the incumbent a “gross failure,” chastising Mr. Bolling for his party’s rejection of $125 million in federal stimulus funds to expand unemployment benefits. Mrs. Wagner accused Mr. Bolling of doing little more than the statutory obligations.

“He has a record of not really accomplishing a lot and being more the senator and then lieutenant governor that said no, not came up with solutions and worked to accomplish them,” Mrs. Wagner said.

Mr. Bolling’s office said he has had numerous legislative accomplishments, in addition to his advocacy for better health care, and is well prepared to become governor if necessary. Mr. Bolling leads both Democrats when it comes to fundraising, taking in more than $1.7 million since March 2008.

Both Mrs. Wagner and Mr. Signer say creating jobs is their No. 1 priority. Mrs. Wagner also is interested in creating mentoring programs between high schools and business leaders. Mr. Signer would like to make it easier for felons to regain their voting rights.

Mrs. Wagner said her thorough understanding of the state budget and the financial issues facing Virginia makes her the best candidate.

“A lot of decisions we make governing are tied to money,” she said. “It all ends up coming back to the budget.”

She also said her experience as a small-business owner - she and her husband run a gourmet popcorn business in Virginia Beach - and as a mother of four put her in a better position than Mr. Signer to understand the struggles of many Virginians.

Mr. Signer said his fresh ideas, coupled with social-injustice and economic issues important to Democrats, will put him over the top Tuesday.

“People look at me and they see someone who is a proud Democrat, no apologies, no excuses, who’s been there for tough fights and has been there through primaries and has been there through thick and thin,” he said. “In my experience, Democratic primary voters like that kind of candidate.”

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