In off-year Virginia primary, small turnout likely

A turnout that's paltry even by Virginia's thin primary participation standards is expected for Tuesday's nomination contests to select the Democratic down-ballot statewide slate and 11 House of Delegates nominees, including senior legislative leaders being challenged by party activists.

Because Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe already secured their gubernatorial nominations, polling precincts across most of Virginia could be lonesome places.

With a hotly contested three-way Democratic gubernatorial nomination fight between McAuliffe, former Del. Brian Moran and winner R. Creigh Deeds, only 6 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Four years earlier, less than 4 percent showed up for a GOP gubernatorial primary in which Jerry Kilgore got 4 of every 5 votes cast.

There are no statewide Republican contests on the ballot Tuesday.

Democrats have to choose between state Sen. Mark Herring and first-time candidate Justin Fairfax for attorney general, and between former Virginia and White House technology chief Aneesh Chopra and state Sen. Ralph Northam for lieutenant governor.

The attorney general nominee will be paired against Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain in the Nov. 5 election, and the nominee for lieutenant governor will face Republican E.W. Jackson, a fiery conservative minister from Chesapeake.

Of eight Republican primaries for House of Delegates seats, five of them are conservative challengers taking on senior Republican incumbents, including Virginia's most powerful legislator, Speaker William J. Howell. Three others are chairmen of House committees: Transportation Committee chairman Joe May of Loudoun County, Beverly Sherwood of the Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee, and Health Welfare and Institutions Committee Chairman Bobby Orrock.

In two of the three Democratic House primaries, incumbents face challengers.

Evandra Thompson has the backing of a Democratic Sen. Henry Marsh and Del. Joe Morrissey in her bid to unseat Del. Rosalyn Dance, who infuriated her party colleagues by voicing support for a failed ambush-style Republican effort in January to redraw state Senate district to benefit the GOP and by supporting a GOP-authored state budget that made no provision for expanding Medicaid.

The other targeted Democratic incumbent is Del. Algie T. Howell of Norfolk, who is challenged by newcomer Rick James.