Del. John A. "Jack" Rollison III, a powerful Republican state legislator from Northern Virginia, was defeated for renomination yesterday by Jeffrey M. Frederick, a political consultant who had challenged Rollison as too soft on taxes.
Frederick, a Woodbridge resident who designs Web sites for other candidates, repeatedly drew voters' attention to Rollison's role as the chief architect of last November's failed attempt to increase sales taxes to pay for transportation projects. After last night's vote, both candidates said the transportation referendum was key to the outcome in the 52nd House District primary.
"There was overwhelming voter opposition to the transportation initiative last year," said Rollison, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "I didn't make a good enough case to the voters, and that's my fault."
In other legislative primaries, two powerful Republican senators easily won renomination, despite similar challenges over their records on tax issues.
State Sens. John H. Chichester of Stafford County and Thomas K. Norment Jr. of the Williamsburg area decisively turned back their opponents, Mike I. Rothfeld and Paul Yost, respectively.
Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. of Winchester claimed victory last night, though he held only a narrow lead over his Republican challenger, Mark D. Tate, the vice mayor of Middleburg, who had not conceded. Potts led Tate by 106 votes out of 14,884 cast in the 27th District.
"Now I know how George Bush felt," Potts said. He attributed the close race to his opponent's aggressive campaign and to voter anger over the tax referendum. "They effectively got the message that the referendum was a tax. God forbid that we let the people have an up or down vote." Tate said he is considering whether to ask for a recount.
The winners of the primaries will appear on the ballot Nov. 4, when all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and the 40 seats in the Senate are up for election.
The victories by the longtime senators stymied an effort by the challengers to push the Republican-controlled Senate in a more conservative direction. During the past several sessions, the Senate has blocked some proposed restrictions on taxes that won approval in the House, also controlled by Republicans.
"It means the anti-tax activists have lost in this particular round" in the Senate, said Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of politics at Virginia Commonwealth University. "The moderate Republican senators have held on and will continue to define the ideological direction of the Senate."
Del. Jeannemarie A. Devolites beat Louis J. Zone Jr., a former School Board member, in a Republican primary for the right to face Democrat Ron Christian in the Vienna area's 34th Senate District. Sen. Leslie L. Byrne (D) was forced out of the seat after Republicans redrew the state's political maps two years ago.
David M. "Dave" Hunt beat anti-tax activist Howard R. Lind for the GOP nomination in McLean's 32nd Senate District. The winner will face Democratic Sen. Janet D. Howell.
In Democratic primaries, Adam P. Ebbin won by a few dozen votes in the five-way race to replace Del. L. Karen Darner of Arlington in the 49th House District, which covers portions of Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties. Darner, a Democrat, is retiring after a decade as one of the House's most liberal voices. No Republican has filed for the election, party and elections officials said.
In Hampton Roads, former judge Verbena Askew, whose losing battle to keep her seat on the bench became a racially-divisive issue in this year's legislative session, was trailing in her bid for the Democratic nomination for the 2nd District Senate seat.
Many of the Republican legislative primaries across the state involved vigorous confrontations over the issues of taxes and social policy.
As Election Day neared, strategists backing the challengers said they were betting that their anti-tax message would connect with voters in the same way it did in November. Those campaigning on behalf of the incumbents said they believed voters would reject what they called extremist views on taxes and other issues.
The voter anger that helped turn back the sales tax increase was not strong enough to defeat Chichester and Norment but may have helped Tate come close to defeating Potts. And it overwhelmed Rollison.
Frederick said last night that his efforts to tag Rollison as "Sales Tax Jack" resonated with voters who were upset about Rollison's efforts to raise their taxes.
"The voters of the 52nd District are ready for . . . a true representative of the people who is going to work to lower the taxes, not raise them," Frederick said. "Northern Virginia has had it with higher taxes."
Rollison, who also lives in Woodbridge, had fought for three years to get legislative approval for last November's referendum in Northern Virginia. At times, he angered conservatives in General Assembly and GOP activists in his district.
With the help of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), Rollison succeeded in the legislature but saw his proposal defeated last year. Voter anger about taxes also helped elect two referendum opponents to the Senate last year.
"I knew that there was a significant undercurrent within the district, but I didn't expect it to be something that was insurmountable," Rollison said last night. He said he has endorsed Frederick in his race against Democrat Charlie Taylor. "I've neglected my business for 15 years," he said. "I'm sure it could use some tender loving care."