Lt. governor race crowded, heated
If you’re not a Republican activist, you probably haven’t heard much about the nomination contest for lieutenant governor.
After all, the nominee will be chosen at a convention, limited to those who’ve signed up as delegates. The seven Republican candidates—yes, seven; Democrats have two of their own—have focused their time, efforts and money on winning over those delegates.
It’s an inside game and the effort has been inside ball. But on the inside, the race has been anything but quiet, with anonymous robocalls and mailers against some candidates and debates on Republican blogs and elsewhere over various candidates’ records and campaigns.
Via anonymous calls, emails and mailers, and less anonymous Internet postings, Del. Scott Lingamfelter has been accused of voting for tax increases; Pete Snyder has been accused of fraternizing with Democrats at January’s inauguration; Jeannemarie Davis’ past associations with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have been revived; and Stafford County Supervisor Susan Stimpson’s rhetoric versus her record has been questioned.
Normally, a lieutenant governor’s race doesn’t excite this much attention. In Virginia, the lieutenant governor’s job is essentially a part-time one. He presides over the Senate in session, and would become governor if something happened to the governor. That’s about it for official duties.
Yet seven Republicans want the job, widely seen as a stepping stone to the Governor’s Mansion. Current Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has twice tried and failed to run for his party’s nomination for governor; former Gov. Tim Kaine was lieutenant governor before his gubernatorial run, as was Don Beyer—who lost the 1997 governor’s race to Jim Gilmore; former Govs. Doug Wilder and Chuck Robb also served as lieutenant governors.
But these days the job of lieutenant governor is actually a critical one—the state Senate is divided between 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, and the lieutenant governor is the tie-breaking vote on many controversial bills.
Although two senators are running for statewide office, the Senate could remain 20-20 at least until the 2015 Senate elections.
With the party’s gubernatorial nomination already settled on Ken Cuccinelli, the lieutenant governor’s nomination and the two-man race for attorney general are where the action is.
In addition to Lingamfelter, Snyder, Davis and Stimpson, lieutenant governor candidates include state Sen. Steve Martin, E.W. Jackson and Corey Stewart.
Their résumés are varied. Martin, of Chesterfield, and Lingamfelter, of Prince William County, are state lawmakers. Stimpson and Stewart (from Prince William) are county supervisors. Jackson, from Chesapeake, is a minister. Snyder is an entrepreneur and ran last year’s Republican effort in Virginia. Davis is a former state senator, married to former congressman Tom Davis, and served as Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Washington liaison.
STIMPSON SPEAKS OUT
Like most of the candidates, Stimpson has had her turn as a target for criticism. Some have, for example, pointed out her past close political relationship with House Speaker Bill Howell, R–Stafford.
Stimpson and Howell had put out joint campaign mailers, and he was viewed as her political mentor. But his support for McDonnell’s transportation tax reform bill this year—which many conservatives revile as a huge tax hike—has made Howell (and McDonnell) quite unpopular with party activists.
Stimpson has distanced herself from Howell on the issue, publicly criticizing him and McDonnell for that bill.
“I am the only one that is naming and speaking out on Gov. McDonnell and Speaker Howell and Sen. [Tommy] Norment and their leadership as Republicans and [them] going along with raising taxes and putting Medicaid expansion on the table,” Stimpson said in a recent interview. “This is about policy, and it’s not personal. And so yes, Gov. McDonnell and Speaker Howell are friends and it does make it uncomfortable to have to speak out against friends. I am forcing them to defend this tax hike and this expansion of government.” Not because I want to criticize but because I feel so strongly that our freedoms are evaporating before our eyes.”
For such criticism—and for other reasons—Stimpson has come under fire close to home. Her fellow Stafford supervisor, Republican Cord Sterling, has written at least one letter and op–ed taking her to task.
Sterling isn’t the only Stafford Republican supervisor backing someone else—Paul Milde has endorsed Corey Stewart. But Milde said his endorsement was made due to a friendship with Stewart and came months before Stimpson entered the race.
In an interview, Sterling said that he’s “very frustrated” with the way Stimpson has run this campaign.
“I look at the campaign and it seems like she’s running against herself, or at least who she’s been in the past,” he said. “All of [the candidates] have the right to express concern or disagree with the transportation plan. My issue is, she’s made it personal and has not put forward a plan of her own. If you’re going to do something, you should put out an alternative plan and you don’t need to make it personal.”
Sterling acknowledged that other candidates opposed the transportation plan yet haven’t offered plans of their own. But he still won’t be supporting Stimpson.
“There’s a lot of good people who are running for lieutenant governor. There are a lot of them I’d be very willing to support,” Sterling said. “With some of them, you do know what you’re getting, and that’s what I like. I don’t like hypocrisy.”
Stimpson said she can’t speak to the motivation of critics.
But she argues that she has a record in Stafford of cutting taxes, budgets and the size of government.
“There are two factions of the Republican party right now: one faction that wants to actually lower taxes, decrease spending. There’s another faction of more moderate Republicans that want to raise taxes and spend more,” Stimpson said. “There’s just a difference of opinion on policy.”
‘HEART AND SOUL’ BATTLE
In a broader sense, the campaign has indeed been about a struggle within the party itself, a fight between the “grassroots” versus the “establishment.”
It’s a reflection of the same dynamic that helped scuttle Bolling’s bid for governor. As an “establishment” Republican, Bolling was unable to counter the fact that “grass-roots” Republicans—more conservative, more fed up with their party’s elected officials, more angry about what they see as a betrayal of principle like McDonnell’s transportation bill—now have positions of power within the party and changed the nomination method to a convention, which favors conservative candidates.
The lieutenant governor candidates saw Bolling’s campaign go kaput and have worked to make themselves as appealing as possible to their party’s more conservative factions.
Former 1st District Republican chairman and Stimpson adviser Russ Moulton describes it as “a battle for the heart and soul of the Virginia Republican party, the establishment versus movement conservatives.”
“We have a situation in the Republican party where Republicans are pushing massive new taxes down in Richmond,” Moulton said. “Susan is the only candidate who stands in stark contrast to that. And that’s very rare for a Republican.”
All the other candidates are also campaigning as conservatives and as opponents of the transportation funding plan. The two who actually had a vote on it, Lingamfelter and Martin, voted against it.
University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth said all seven candidates are just trying to get attention.
“It’s not an easy task to move up from a county office to a statewide office, and the biggest challenge of all is to get noticed among the activists,” he said.
Some campaigns said the large field has made it challenging.
“In a seven-way race, there’s only so much you can prepare for, but I think we’re as ready as we can be right now for a convention in May,” said Stewart campaign manager Patrick Lee.
But others said more candidates makes for more attention.
“The fact that there’s so many has gotten more people involved than there normally would be,” said Greg Aldridge, Jackson’s spokesman. “If this was just a couple of people running I don’t know that we’d see as much interest and participation as we’re seeing. It’s worked out better and it’s gotten more people involved, and that’s a good thing.”
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028