An Early Look at the Feb.12 Primary--And Beyond
Get ready to be inundated with a series of potentially competitive elections.
Because of the Democratic resurgence in Virginia, voters are going to be facing more choices at the polls over the next two years than they have in decades.
It all starts Feb. 12, with the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.
With New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama locked in a close race for the Democratic nomination, and former senator John Edwards vowing to stay in the race until the convention in August, Virginia could be center stage in the fight.
Neither Obama nor Clinton may have a clear advantage after Feb. 5, when voters in multiple states go to the polls on what is known as Super Tuesday. If that happens, the Feb. 12 primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District could become more important.
Obama might have an early edge in Virginia because he has the backing of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), whose reputation nationally could rest on delivering the state for Obama.
Obama's message of reaching out to independents may play well in Virginia, where self-described independents make up about a third of the electorate, according to a Washington Post poll last year.
Virginia voters don't register by political party, so on Feb. 12 they ask for a Democratic or a Republican ballot.
African Americans are critical voting blocs in a Democratic primary. Obama has been endorsed by Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who was the nation's first black governor. Virginia's only black member of Congress, Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, also is supporting Obama.
But Clinton has assembled a national campaign team with plenty of experience winning elections in Virginia. Mike Henry, Clinton's deputy campaign manager, managed Kaine's 2005 bid for governor. Another veteran of the '05 campaign, Mo Eilleithee, serves as chief spokesman for Clinton.
Virginia's Republican primary could be even more interesting than the Democratic contest. Underscoring the recent division within the state party, top Virginia Republicans are divided over who the GOP nominee should be.
As of now, the race looks as if it could come down to a two-man contest between Arizona Sen. John McCain and either former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson or former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, depending on which of the two has the advantage among the state's influential Christian conservative voters.
McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, could benefit from Virginia's large number of active and retired military personnel. As in New Hampshire, McCain could also battle Obama for votes from independents.
And it's too soon to write off former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who could benefit if McCain loses his recent momentum.
Eyes on U.S. Senate
After Feb. 12, the next big race will take place in late May or early June, when Republicans hold a convention to choose their nominee for U.S. Senate.
Former governor James S. Gilmore III will face off against Del. Robert G. Marshall of Prince William. Gilmore has brushed aside Marshall's candidacy, saying he's confident he will be the one to oppose former governor Mark R. Warner, the only announced Democratic candidate for the seat of retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R).
Unlike Marshall, Gilmore has experience running a statewide campaign and high name recognition among GOP voters. But Marshall, who notes that Gilmore supports abortion rights until the eighth week of a pregnancy, might do well with social conservatives who often dominate GOP nominating contests.
Gilmore might want to study Michael Farris's surprise victory at the 1993 GOP state convention. Farris, a home-schooling advocate, defeated Bobbie Kilberg for the nomination for lieutenant governor because of his strength among social conservatives.
11th District Heats Up
A potentially bitter fight is brewing in the Democratic primary in the 11th Congressional District of Fairfax and Prince William counties.
Incumbent Thomas M. Davis III (R), is considering stepping down. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), former U.S. representative Leslie L. Byrne and retired naval Cmdr. Doug Denneny are angling to replace Davis. The primary is June 10.
Connolly, a proven fundraiser, was reelected last year with 60 percent of the vote. But Byrne has a lot of support from liberal party activists who have traditionally been more likely to vote in a primary.
If Davis seeks reelection, he probably would be favored to win the general election, though he could face the toughest race of his career because the district is trending Democratic.
If Davis retires, the Democratic nominee probably would be favored, though a moderate Republican could make it competitively close.
This fall, the marquee race in Virginia is the one for Senate. Republicans concede that Warner, who held a 30-point lead over Gilmore in a Washington Post poll in October, will be tough to defeat. But Warner advisers caution that the race could be a lot closer than polls suggest.
The Senate race will occur at the same time as the presidential race. And there are increasing signs that Virginia, which hasn't supported a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, will be competitive.
The '09 Governor's Race
After November, all eyes turn to 2009.
Del. Brian J. Moran (Alexandria) and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) say they will seek the Democratic nomination for governor.
Because former governor and senator George Allen said last week that he won't run for governor, Republicans are bracing for a fight between Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell.
There is no front-runner for either party's nomination for governor, which hasn't happened since the mid-1980s.
Bolling's and McDonnell's likely candidacies mean there will be primary and general election battles for their respective jobs. And don't forget that Democrats will be making a big push next year to pick up enough seats to regain control of the House of Delegates.
The election that might help determine what happens in many of the others happens Feb. 12. Convinced that Clinton is too polarizing to win Virginia, many Republicans believe their candidates stand a better chance this year if she is the Democratic nominee for president. Gilmore is already trying to link Warner to her.
Even if Clinton wins the general election, Republicans think a Clinton presidency would make it more likely that Virginia voters would support a Republican in next year's governor's race.
But if there is one lesson from the New Hampshire primary, no one should underestimate Clinton's political skills.
January 16, 2008; 2:45 PM ET
Categories: Bill Bolling , Election 2008/Congress , Election 2008/President , Election 2008/U.S. Senate , Election 2009 , George F. Allen , Gerald E. Connolly , James Gilmore III , John W. Warner , Leslie L. Byrne , Mark Warner , Robert F. McDonnell , Thomas M. Davis III , Tim Craig , Timothy M. Kaine
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