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Republican lieutenant governor race draws a crowd

This year’s statewide elections have drawn a flurry of interest from Republican candidates, particularly for the office of lieutenant governor.

There are seven candidates seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor this year. The winner will be selected at a party convention in May.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm out there,” said Garren Shipley, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia.

Normally a quieter, behind-the scenes position, the lieutenant governor began taking a more prominent role in state politics starting with last year’s session. The state Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, leaving current Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) to serve as the tie-breaking vote on non-financial legislation, and it will remain that way for at least the next two General Assembly sessions.

In addition, the position is attractive because it is seen as a stepping stone to become the governor, said Geoffrey Skelley, political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

While Virginia voted for President Barack Obama in the past two elections, the Republican Party still controls much of the state, Skelley said, meaning that there are a number of state legislators and county chairmen who believe they’re ready to run.

“You end up with a lot of people looking to move up in the world,” he said.

Five of the seven candidates are from Northern Virginia.

Jeannemarie Davis is a former delegate and senator from the Vienna area. Pete Snyder, of Springfield, is a businessman who founded a social media company and an investment firm. He has not held elective office before.

Two candidates are longtime elected officials in Prince William County — Del. Scott Lingamfelter (Dist. 31) and Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart.

Another local government official, Stafford County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Stimpson, also is in the mix.

Rounding out the slate of Republican candidates are state Sen. Steve Martin (Dist. 11), who represents Chesterfield and Amelia counties, and E.W. Jackson, a minister from Chesapeake who also ran in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate last year.

Shipley said the party is thrilled with its options, no matter what the outcome.

“[Republican Party of Virginia] Chairman [Pat] Mullins has been real clear that even if we were picking our ticket by picking names out of a hat, it would be a fantastic ticket,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment of riches.”

While Snyder seems to be running the most publicly visible campaign, Skelley said, it’s hard to tell which candidates have the best chance at success in the convention system.

Instead of selling themselves to voters, like they would in a primary, Shipley said the campaigns are targeted at getting convention delegates to pledge their support.

The vote allocations are not based on total population but are divided among convention delegates by locality using a formula based on the number of Republican votes cast for Mitt Romney last year and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) four years before that, Shipley said.

Each jurisdiction can divide or consolidate its votes between actual delegates. So one individual’s vote can count anywhere from two-tenths of a vote to 2 votes. For example, Fairfax County has 1,392 votes and might send up to 6,960 delegates to the convention.

While large population centers such as Fairfax County will still have plenty of say, the fact that they lean Democratic might skew power at the convention to more solidly Republican areas of the state, Skelley said.

“The regional factors can come into play,” he said.

In general, conventions tend to favor more conservative candidates, Skelley said. The convention process is one reason Bolling opted not to challenge Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the Republican nomination for governor.

“The delegates at the convention are more likely to be in the activist mold,” Skelley said.

Another question is whether Cuccinelli will try to influence the process.

“Perhaps he wants a woman or something to balance out the ticket in some manner,” Skelley said.

The Republican Party of Virginia State Convention begins May 17 in Richmond.

Democrats will choose between two candidates for their party’s nomination, former U.S. and Virginia secretary of technology Aneesh Chopra and state Sen. Ralph Northam (Dist. 6), in a June primary.

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