RICHMOND, Va. — Ralph Northam, a Norfolk doctor who became a hero of Virginia’s reproductive-rights movement, and fellow state Sen. Mark Herring won statewide Democratic primaries Tuesday for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.
Two respected senior Republican House members, however, were felled by conservative challengers as each sought an 11th term in the General Assembly.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist and the only physician in the Senate, won a large following among female voters in 2012 when he used medical authority to thunder against a Republican-authored bill that would have required an intrusive ultrasound exam of every woman seeking an abortion.
Northam took nearly 55 percent of the vote over former Aneesh Chopra, who used his connections as former White House technology chief under President Barack Obama and Virginia technology secretary under Gov. Tim Kaine to more than double Northam’s campaign fundraising.
In the only other statewide race, Herring struggled against first-time candidate Justin Fairfax, winning with about 52 percent of the vote over the one-time aide to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and a staff member on Al Gore’s 2000 presidential bid.
The results came in a primary that will be remembered for its paltry turnout. Less than 3 percent of the state’s 5.2 million registered voters went to the polls to vote in the two Democratic down-ballot contests and 11 House of Delegates primaries.
With the state’s gubernatorial nominations already decided for Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry R. McAuliffe, there was no marquee race.
While turnout was low across the board, it ranged from 0.006 of registered voters in King William County to about 12 percent in Petersburg, a heavily Democratic region and venue for that party’s most bitterly contested House primary.
In that race, Del. Rosalyn Dance, a former Petersburg mayor, defeated challenger Evandra Thompson by about 6 percentage points. Thompson had been recruited and backed by Democratic Del. Joe Morrissey and state Sen. Henry Marsh after Dance infuriated fellow Democrats by supporting a Republican-authored budget that made no provision for expanding Medicaid to about 400,000 Virginia working poor and voiced support for an ambush-style Republican effort to redraw state Senate boundaries.
Democratic Del. Algie T. Howell of Norfolk easily turned aside challenger Rick James.
Eight of the House primaries were for Republican seats, and five of them were challenges to incumbents, including House Speaker William J. Howell and three committee chairmen.
Two of the Republican incumbents, Dels. Joe May of Loudoun and Beverly Sherwood of Frederick County, lost to challengers from the Republican right motivated by the legislators’ support for this year’s landmark transportation funding reform law that takes effect next month.
May was chairman of the House Transportation Committee and Sherwood chaired the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. Both had been in the House since 1994.
The transportation bill — sponsored by Speaker Howell and the legislative legacy of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell — deeply divided legislative Republicans. Supporters defended it as the cure for chronic gridlock that threatened to stall the state’s most populous and economically vibrant regions while conservatives, including national anti-tax leader Grover Norquist, condemned it as the largest tax increase in Virginia history.
Two other challenged Republican incumbents, Dels. Todd Gilbert and House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee Chairman Bobby Orrock, survived conservative efforts to unseat them.
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