With Virginia Republicans poised to nominate conservative swashbuckler Ken Cuccinelli for governor this weekend, the real excitement surrounding their state convention in Richmond swirls around who delegates will select as lieutenant governor.
The leading contenders for the post are being challenged by two "second-tier" candidates who are attracting attention from delegates who will be selecting Cuccinelli's running mate in his race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
A few weeks ago, the front-runner appeared to be Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart, who is best known for supporting tough anti-illegal immigration measures in his county. Millionaire businessman Pete Snyder of northern Virginia was considered the second-place contender.
But two surprising candidates are mounting a challenge for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.
Former state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, who headed the state of Virginia's Washington office under outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell, and Bishop E.W. Jackson, a former U.S. Marine and Harvard Law graduate whose pulpit oratorical style has been likened to that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., both bring something new to the race.
Davis, wife of former GOP Rep. Tom Davis, has long been considered a moderate because of her stand on background checks for gun owners. In her last race for the state Senate, Davis was endorsed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, considered a sworn enemy of groups who back the right to keep and bear arms.
But like Cuccinelli, she takes a strong pro-life stand -- opposing abortion under any circumstances. In recent weeks, uncommitted delegates are being wooed by a video that features a strong testimonial from House Government Affairs Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and a hero to conservatives for his relentless investigations of Obama administration scandals.
Jackson, a 61-year-old African American, is an across-the-board conservative who leaves audiences spellbound with his oratory and denunciations of President Barack Obama. Where other Republicans "dance around Obama," he says, "I want to dance on him."
Other contenders in the race are state Sen. Steve Martin of Richmond and state Delegate Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William County.
The most recent Washington Post poll shows Cuccinelli, the Virginia attorney general, leading McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, by a 51 percent-to-41 percent margin among likely voters. The same survey showed that 70 percent of voters knew little or nothing about McAuliffe, compared to 52 percent for Cuccinelli.
With six months out of the election, each candidate has plenty of time to define himself -- and his opponent, adding to the importance of each candidate's running mates.
Significantly, the Post poll showed that had Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling done what he had long hinted and run as an independent, he would have drawn equally from both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe and started the race with 15 percent of the vote.
Bolling, considered more moderate than Cuccinelli, announced in March he would not run at all. But in so doing, he pointedly refused to endorse the attorney general.
Coupled with the fact that so many voters don't know either candidate well, the "Bolling factor" has led many convention delegates to begin thinking "outside the box" for their choice for Cuccinelli's running mate.
"All of this may have an impact on who is lieutenant governor," one northern Virginia delegate headed for Richmond told Newsmax.
The question for many delegates is whether Virginia Republicans will select traditional political fixtures for the office of lieutenant governor or will they turn to candidates who would add diversity to the ticket.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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