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As they choose their candidates, state Democrats expect a dismal turnout.

Primary Numbers

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The last time Virginia Democrats threw a statewide primary, Chuck Robb ran against Virgil Goode for the U.S. Senate. It was 1994 and voter turnout was an abysmal 9 percent.

And that was 9 percent of registered voters. It was really much worse: only 4 or 5 percent of all adults. A meager 237,000 people voted.

Now, with another Democratic statewide primary coming up next month, everyone expects the turnout will be even worse.

"Six months ago, we were originally estimating 250,000," says state Del. Jerrauld C. Jones of Norfolk, who is running for lieutenant governor. "Now, quite honestly, I think the projection has gone down. We won't be very surprised if it's 150,000 or 125,000, maybe even down to 100,000."

If true, that would make it one of the worst voter turnouts in a statewide election. With just 100,000 votes cast in a state of 5.3 million adults, it would be a dismal 2 percent.

At stake: the Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Primary day is June 12. The deadline to register to vote in the primaries was May 14.

Each office is important in its own right, but these positions are even more important as stepping stones to the governor's office. Eight of the past 10 governors were previously attorney general or lieutenant governor.

Three Democrats are running for lieutenant governor: Jones, state Del. Alan A. Diamonstein of Newport News and Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine.

Four Democrats are running for attorney general: State Del. Whitt W. Clement of Danville, state Del. A. Donald McEachin of Richmond, state Sen. John S. Edwards of Roanoke and Richmond lawyer Sylvia Clute.

And yet expectations for voter turnout are low.

"Will we get even 9 or 10 percent [of registered voters]?" asks Kaine's campaign manager, Lisa McMurray. "We're not real sure. It's really kind of hard to say in Virginia. We sure hope voter turnout is high."

Odds are against it, for several reasons:

First, there is no contested governor's race at the top of the ticket.

Second, no candidate is well-known statewide, as Chuck Robb was in 1994.

Third, no candidate has a lot of money to saturate radio and television with ads.

Fourth, there is no candidate from Northern Virginia, where there is the largest concentration of voters. So while turnout may be higher in Richmond, Hampton Roads and Roanoke, which have local candidates, it probably will be lower in Fairfax and Prince William counties, two of the three biggest localities in Virginia.

Finally, Democrats have fared poorly in recent statewide elections.

"If 250,000 people turn out, we'll be shocked," says Jones' campaign manager, Kisha Petticolas.

And yet voter registration is up all over Virginia, thanks to the recent motor-voter law, which allowed voter registration at motor vehicle offices.

"There has been a considerable rise in registration," says Norfolk Registrar Elisa Long. "Unfortunately, that hasn't translated into increased voter turnout." — Landmark News Service

Staff researcher Diana Diehl contributed to this report.



Word for Word
At last week's City Council meeting, Executive Director Geoffrey Platt Jr. has just concluded his request that City Council continue funding Maymont Park.

Mayor Tim Kaine: Thank you, Mr. Platt. Yes — Miss Trammell.

City Councilwoman Reva Trammell: Last August I was able to have the opportunity to go all the way through Maymont Park. I would never have had that opportunity if it had not been for the chief's, one of his police officers, Officer Doug Wendel. He carried me all through Maymont Park and believe me, I had never really fully understood all of Maymont until I got, you know, to be there that day [smiles]. And I will always cherish those memories — and those secrets — of that day at Maymont Park. So I definitely support you. Thank you.

Mayor Kaine: Uh, thank you.

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