The hotly-contested race for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor this year has a lot more at stake than may meet the eye at first. For a lot of people, even otherwise savvy political types, this may not yet be clear.
Take the event of the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council last Friday at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner. The two candidates vying for the Dem nod that will be decided in a June 11 primary, State Sen. Ralph Northam and Aneesh Chopra, were on hand for a friendly exhibition of their contesting candidacies.
A question came from the audience about the role of the lieutenant governor in Richmond. Northam, a State Senator from Tidewater, quipped that he and his rival both looked that up on Google the night before, which drew some laughs.
In other words, he intimated, the duties of the job were rather esoteric and insignificant, even for folks from Falls Church whose native son, Don Beyer, Jr., was twice elected to that post in the 1990s.
But such an obscure definition of the job, even by those now seeking it, couldn’t be farther from the practical truth.
The biggest part of the lieutenant governor’s job is to preside over the State Senate and, in the event of a 20-20 tie vote (there are 40 state senators), to cast the deciding vote.
Well, as it turns out, there are now exactly 20 Republican and 20 Democratic State Senators, so that with no State Senate elections in 2013 or before 2015, it means that whomever wins the lieutenant governor race this November will, effectively, tilt the majority in the Senate to one party or other other.
Thus, the job could not be more important under these circumstances, easily the equal in importance of the races for governor and attorney general.
In the last legislative session earlier this year, there were numerous times when the sharply divided partisan Senate saw 20-20 tie votes decided by current lieutenant governor Bill Bolling, a Republican.
Thus, a lot of the arch-conservative bills that came over from the Republican dominated House of Delegates were able to be passed by the Senate and signed into law by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell.
Had a Democrat been in the lieutenant governor seat, all of those bills would have gone down, never to reach the governor’s desk. With no change in the 20-20 deadlock in the State Senate this coming year, Democrats hope they can cause that to happen with the election of one of theirs this November.
Of course, this matter is equally important to Republicans, who will decide their lieutenant governor candidate at a statewide convention (not a primary) on May 18. They will chose from among a field of seven candidates: Fairfax State Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, Chesapeake pastor E.W. Jackson, Prince William State Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, Chesterfield State Sen. Stephen Martin, technology entrepreneur Pete Snyder, Corey Stewart, chair of the Prince William Co. Board of Supervisors, and Susan Stimpson, chair of the Stafford Co. Board of Supervisors.
For the two Democratic contenders, while genial in their campaigns on the outside, their contest could not be more important, and a big premium, in this context, has been put on the issue of “electability.”
Northam, a native of southern Virginia with a strong military background as a pediatrician and neurologist who has served in the State Senate from Norfolk since 2008, is considered more “electable” by many in the party who are supporting him, including his State Senate colleagues from this region.
Chopra is the Arlington-based Secretary of Technology for Gov. Tim Kaine and Chief Technology Officer for President Obama, who is popular in the Democratic base of Northern Virginia, which has been critical for tilting the balance for Democrats, statewide in the last decade, including for President Obama and now U.S. Senator Kaine in 2012.
Some critics of Chopra wonder if his ethnic-sounding (Indian) name can pass muster in Virginia in a general election, outside of Northern Virginia. But some critics of Northam have a similar concern whether his “downstate” profile can ignite the necessary enthusiasm among Northern Virginia voters.
Those in defense of Chopra note that Obama, also with an ethnic-sounding name, carried the entire state twice, while a “downstate” Democratic nominee, Sen. Creigh Deeds, failed to win the 2009 gubernatorial race, due in part to a lukewarm response from Northern Virginia Democrats.
Both candidates are likely to appear at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner of the Falls Church Democratic Committee on Sunday, May 19 at the Falls Church Community Center, along with two Democrats vying for the attorney general nomination, State Sen. Mark Herring and Justin Fairfax.