- Associated Press - Sunday, June 4, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Six candidates are down to the final weeks of campaigning for their party’s nomination to be Virginia’s next lieutenant governor.

Democrats and Republicans both have a three-way primary for the state’s No. 2 job on June 13. Three GOP members of the General Assembly are facing off to challenge the winner of the Democratic primary, which features an attorney, a retired federal prosecutor and a longtime political staffer, none of whom have held public office before.

Campaigns for the part-time, largely ceremonial position that pays around $36,000 a year typically draw little attention or voter interest. But it’s an important job - in addition to serving on various boards and ruling on parliamentary matters in the state Senate, the lieutenant governor also breaks tie votes in the closely divided upper chamber and is next in the line of succession to the governor. The position is also often a stepping stone to higher office.

Professor Toni-Michelle Travis, who’s been studying Virginia politics for over 20 years at George Mason University, said Virginia has an “escalator” system, where politicians are expected to pay their dues to the party before moving up.

“The assumption is that, you know, you might have served in the General Assembly and then you become lieutenant governor and then you move up to governor,” she said.

Seven lieutenant governors have gone on to become governor, according to the official website of the state office, and current Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is hoping to become the eighth. Others have gone on to serve in Congress.

Here are the six candidates voters will whittle to two next week:

State Sen. Jill Vogel

On the GOP side, Vogel has a big fundraising lead.

Vogel is the managing partner at the go-to legal firm for right-leaning groups that participate in elections without disclosing donors and formerly served as chief counsel for the Republican National Committee. She’s serving her third term in the Senate, where she represents northern Virginia’s 27th District, which stretches from Frederick County to part of Stafford County.

Vogel, who occasionally bucks her party on votes in the Senate, said her top priorities would be creating jobs and making Virginia more economically competitive.

“I think of myself as a modern, proactive, solutions-oriented person, I and do not think that where my party is on some issues is right all the time,” she said in an interview.

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State Sen. Bryce Reeves

Reeves, a former Army ranger and police detective, owns an insurance and financial services business and lives in Spotsylvania.

The second-term senator represents District 17, which includes the city of Fredericksburg. A conservative who describes himself as “100 percent pro-life,” Reeves has made public safety a key campaign issue, with a TV ad showing masked men scaring a suburban family in their driveway while a voiceover says, “This is the America Obama left behind. Terrorists living here, the FBI investigating ISIS nationwide.”

He also wants to lower tax rates and “figure out a way to get people back to work and off the welfare dole,” he said in an interview.

Reeves and Vogel, who were once good friends, have been tangled in a hostile feud over Reeves’ allegations that there is evidence Vogel or her husband, or someone at their direction, sent an email to state Republicans alleging Reeves was having an affair with a campaign staffer.

Reeves says he was not having an affair. Vogel has strongly denied any connection to the email and has indicated she may have been set up.

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State Del. Glenn Davis

Davis, a successful tech entrepreneur and former Virginia Beach city councilman, says he’s “razor focused” on issues that affect Virginia families, not his opponents’ drama. Davis, who has made jobs and workforce development his top priority, has been criss-crossing the state in an RV dubbed “Mellow Yellow” for its lemon-colored interior trim.

“I didn’t just start caring about tax reform and regulatory reform when I starting running for lieutenant governor,” said Davis, who thinks school choice should be greatly expanded.

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Susan Platt

Platt, a veteran political staffer and former lobbyist, is hoping to make history by being the first woman elected to the office.

Virginia has a dearth of women in politics: No woman has held a statewide office in two decades, when Mary Sue Terry served as attorney general in the 1990s, and less than 1 out of every 5 lawmakers is female.

Platt, who served as Joe Biden’s chief of staff while he was in the U.S. Senate, said she’s running to stand up to President Donald Trump, who she calls the “bully-in-chief.”

Like her Democratic opponents, she supports abortion rights, expanding Medicaid and raising the minimum wage.

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Justin Fairfax

The first Democrat to jump in the race was Fairfax, an attorney from Annandale who narrowly lost the 2013 nomination contest for attorney general to Mark Herring, who went on to win the race.

Fairfax leads the pack in fundraising and has the endorsement of dozens of Democratic leaders. So far, he’s the only Democratic candidate to run a TV ad.

Fairfax says he would be focused on creating economic opportunity and security for the middle class by helping small businesses thrive and expanding workforce development for what he calls “middle-skill” jobs that require more than a high school diploma but not a college degree.

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Gene Rossi

Rossi, who worked for 27 years as a Justice Department prosecutor and lives in Alexandria, said if elected he would focus on sentencing reform, helping former prisoners, as well as improving health care and public education.

“When I was a prosecutor, I fought for people who couldn’t speak for themselves at trial … and that’s what I’m going to do as lieutenant governor,” he said.

Rossi is third in fundraising but says money’s not everything. He says he’s done a better job at campaigning across the state, not just in deep blue territory.

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