The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hopefuls tending six-digit war chests; A1

Two challengers preparing for 2007 state Senate fight

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

WINCHESTER — Election Day 2006 is months away, but candidates are already marshaling their forces for the 2007 fight for the 27th District Virginia Senate seat.

And they’re raising money. Lots of money.

The seat is held by Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, who roused Republican ire — and was nearly excommunicated from the party — for entering the 2005 gubernatorial race as an “independent Republican” in opposition to GOP nominee Jerry Kilgore, a former Virginia attorney general.

More than a year away from a Republican primary, two challengers are already tending six-digit war chests and gunning for the architect of “Operation Upset.”

Jill Holtzman-Vogel, a Warrenton attorney, ran against Potts in the 2003 primary, as did then-Middleburg Vice Mayor Mark Tate. Holtzman-Vogel later withdrew to give Tate a better chance of beating Potts.

The challenger lost by 106 votes.

Now, Holtzman-Vogel is running again and she’s already got $200,711 in donations ready to go, according to a midyear report filed Monday with the State Board of Elections.

The bottom line is impressive, but not quite as impressive as the report would suggest, she said. All of her funds were raised over a 16-month period and don’t reflect a six-figure groundswell of support in the past six months.

When Potts announced his campaign for governor, speculation abounded that he wouldn’t be headed back to the Senate — either because he would be the new governor, a member of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s cabinet or would move on to other things.

“There was a lot of outside interest in having a campaign that was up and ready to go,” Holtzman-Vogel said. “We got ready, and we were prepared.”

Tate isn’t going into the fight unarmed.

He reported more than $100,000 in donations and a matching six-figure war chest to the State Board of Elections on Monday.

“I was 106 votes away [in the 2003 primary], and a lot of supporters encouraged me to run again,” Tate said.

For Tate, the 2007 campaign is about keeping promises on issues like abortion and school choice. Both men staked out conservative ground during the campaign.

“My opponent made the same promises, and my opponent broke those,” Tate said. That’s one reason Tate kept the framework of his campaign intact and ready.

But Republicans all over the district had best be focused on 2006 going into November, according to both challengers.

“It’s so important that we be very mindful and not lose sight of what it would mean to us to lose a house of Congress,” Holtzman-Vogel said.

In particular, Republicans need to be mindful of the race between incumbent Republican Rep. Frank Wolf and Democratic challenger Judy Feder.

The 27th Senate District shares some significant turf with the 10th Congressional District — all of Frederick and Clarke counties, the city of Winchester, western Loudoun County and northern Fauquier County.

There have been some Democratic gains in the eastern half of the 10th District. Loudoun County voted for Kaine, a Democratic, and Democrats took some special elections as well.
Wolf vs. Feder will be a good marker of where the 27th Senate District is headed, the candidates said.

“That’s where I’m putting most of my energies — in campaigning for Frank Wolf, [U.S. Sen.] George Allen and the marriage amendment,” Tate said.

But the GOP is hardly in retreat.

“What we’re concerned about in those regions is traffic and growth,” Tate said. “We had some candidates, the message[s] they gave to the voters weren’t acceptable. Two or three elections in the same year does not a trend make.”

Will Potts run again? He wouldn’t say on Monday.

“I’m not ready to make an announcement,” he said. “I’m going to make a decision when I want to make a decision, and that’s going to be on my timetable.”

Regardless, Potts said he wasn’t impressed by the early opposition or their fundraising totals.

“That isn’t anything new,” he said. “I won six elections, and they were all opposed.” Potts also said he’s always out-raised his opponents, with the exception of his gubernatorial run.

Potts’ organization didn’t make its finance report available on Monday, but any re-election campaign would have a lot of ground to make up, based on a January report.

Potts ended 2005 with less than $7,000.

Still, any suggestion that Potts might have a hard time winning again are just hot air, he said.

“I hear about those 106 votes, but I never read about those 12 points I beat Mark Herring [by],” Potts said, and “[Herring] is the toughest opponent I ever faced in six elections.”