- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

RICHMOND | Virginia Republicans are gathering this weekend to settle the few remaining questions about their slate of candidates — and the outcome could forecast how the party intends to run against the Democrats in the fall elections.

State Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, former GOPAC-Virginia Chairman David M. Foster, and former U.S. Attorney John Brownlee are facing off for the party’s nomination for attorney general.

The post was vacated earlier this year by Bob McDonnell, who enters the convention unopposed in his bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Mr. Cuccinelli, a lawyer who is the last remaining Republican state senator in Northern Virginia, is widely seen as the candidate who is the most socially conservative — a label he embraces.

“Not only is there nothing wrong with being conservative, it’s the right thing to do from a principle standpoint,” he said.

Mr. Brownlee, of Roanoke, is making his first bid for elective office. The former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia is a career prosecutor and former Army officer.

Mr. Foster, a former Arlington County school board chairman, served as chairman of the political action committee GOPAC-Virginia.

Friday evening, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination last year and is widely thought to be considering a run in 2012, addressed the sold-out Commonwealth Gala, one of the state party’s biggest fundraisers.

He told reporters before the dinner that this year’s two gubernatorial races — in Virginia and New Jersey — are “really critical to conservative principles nationally.”

The attorney-general nomination is among the only competitive races left for the Republican Party of Virginia, which settled on the top of the ticket more than a year ago in an effort to end longstanding divisions that resulted out of differences between the party’s moderate and conservative wings over taxes.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who decided in March 2008 not to challenge Mr. McDonnell for the party’s nomination for governor, is expected to fend off easily a challenge from lawyer Patrick Muldoon of Giles County in his bid for re-election.

Party unity was threatened last month when Jeffrey M. Frederick was ousted after 10 months as chairman amid charges he mishandled party finances.

Acting party chairman Pat Mullins of Louisa seeks to serve out the term. Bill Stanley of Moneta, the Franklin County Republican Party chairman, is also seeking the seat.

Mr. McDonnell, who endorsed Mr. Mullins for party chairman but has avoided endorsing a candidate for attorney general, said he spoke with Mr. Cuccinelli, Mr. Brownlee and Mr. Foster Wednesday and praised each for their conduct in the race.

He noted that the entire party is “a happy conservative love fest.”

The nomination will be voted on by delegates attending the convention at the Richmond Coliseum, with party officials saying more than 10,000 delegates are expected to attend.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia said state party leaders are predicting “one of the biggest turnouts they’ve ever had,” with as much as five times the attendance of last year, when the convention was dominated by Mr. Frederick’s contentious battle against John H. Hager for party chairman.

At previous conventions, the majority of the participants have represented the more conservative branch of the party.

The question for this convention becomes: “Is the party preparing to win in November by projecting a unified moderate-conservative image or hard right — away from key swing independent voters?” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

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