Hotly-Contested Lieutenant Governor Race Tops Democratic Primary Ballot Tuesday

Regional Differences Cited, 2 Also Bidding For Attorney General

CORRECTION: For attorney general, the Washington Post endorsed Justin Fairfax, not Mark Herring as erroneous reported here.

Aneesh Chopra and State Sen. Ralph Northam have pulled out the stops in the final days of their campaign for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, and in case people aren’t aware, that position in the Virginia state government has, in this particular election year, become very important.

The two candidates will be on the ballot next Tuesday, June 11, for anyone who chooses to vote in the Democratic primary. They will be joined by two candidates vying for the Dem nomination to run for attorney general, as well, a choice between Loudoun State Sen. Mark Herring and prosecutor Justin Fairfax.

But while Herring is far outspending Fairfax in the A.G. Race, Chopra and Northam have gone toe-to-toe, with likely voters in Falls Church being inundated with almost daily glossy mailings and robo-calls, most recently touting the big party names backing them.

It’s pretty much a dead heat when it comes to that, as anyone who’s fortunate enough to get those mailings and taped-message phone calls can see or hear.

Chopra, the secretary of technology for Gov. Tim Kaine and also for President Obama, has the backing of U.S. Reps. Jim Moran and Gerry Connolly and a long list of local Democratic politicians, including State Del. Jim Scott, Fairfax Supervisor Penny Gross and former Fairfax County Board chair Kate Hanley.

Northam, the only practicing medical doctor in the State Senate, has the firm support of State Sen. Dick Saslaw and former State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple behind him.

Northam also has the endorsement of the Washington Post. But that is hardly a plus in the eyes of a lot of area Democratic activists who recall that in 2009 in a contentious three-way race for the Democratic nomination for governor, the Post’s endorsement then of State Sen. Creigh Deeds was given a lot of credit for Deeds’ primary victory. But then Deeds, from Bath County, proved himself to be out of touch with Northern Virginia Democrats and could not reignite the enthusiasm of 2008 that carried Obama to the first victory for a Democrat in a presidential election in Virginia in 44 years.

Citing the importance of getting out the Northern Virginia vote, in particular, the Falls Church News-Press endorsed Chopra, and both the Post and News-Press endorsed Herring.

Indeed, Chopra, the eldest son of Indian immigrants, has the kind of background and expertise that connects with the so-called “creative class” of high-tech industries that dominate Northern Virginia. He was appointed by Gov. Kaine the first secretary of technology when that position was created in 2006, and then was chosen by Obama as the nation’s first chief technology officer. He quit that post in order to run for lieutenant governor here.

While Chopra and Northam were friendly when they faced off briefly at a meeting of the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council at the Tower Club on May 3, a debate hosted by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee in Springfield last weekend was less cordial and more contentious.

According to a report in the Virginian-Pilot, Northam was challenged by a questioner who cited on-line evidence that Northam had considered switching his party affiliation in a State Senate battle over the budget in 2009 when the Democrats held a one-vote majority. Chopra followed that up citing a 2009 Virginian-Pilot report of that episode.

The plan failed, and Northam later told the Pilot the experience “was like a bad dream.”

In mailings, Chopra also unloaded on Northam for being soft on three gun control measures, a charge that Northam sharply denied. Northam, an Army veteran who admits he likes to hunt, said his rating with the National Rifle Association is a “D,” and he supports background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Supporters cite Northam’s leadership in pushing back against Republican excesses, including against the GOP push for requiring ultrasound procedures in cases of abortions.

The importance of the lieutenant governor race this year is highlighted by two factors: 1. the State Senate is now evenly divided between 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, and it is the role of the lieutenant governor to cast the tie-breaking vote if needed, and, 2. the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, E. W. Jackson, is one of the most arch-conservative candidates that the GOP has nominated in a long time.

Therefore, most of the focus of Tuesday’s election is on which candidate can best help insure a victory in November, both for the lieutenant governor job, but also for governor and attorney general.

Those leery of Chopra’s chances because of the ethnicity of his name need to be reminded by President Obama was elected twice in Virginia, while Chopra’s ability to ignite Democrats in this region, where statewide races have been decided increasingly in the last decade, is considered stronger than his opponents’.