Primary colors

What first appeared to be a spiteful case of tit for tat, now seems to be a great equalizer in county politics that may actually give Prince William County true party primaries later this spring. This is good news for some and bad news for others.

We’re talking about the candidacy of Larry D. Williams, who filed papers last week to challenge County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton for the Republican nomination during a June 10 primary.

Williams, a friend of Sheriff Lee Stoffregen, became a GOP candidate with a petition signed by a virtual “who’s who” among the Prince William Democratic Party. Among the signers of this Republican petition were Stoffregen, former Dumfries Mayor Chris Brown, Dumfries Democrat Kevin English, Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger columnist Denise Oppenhagen and Democratic Party chief George Delimba. Circulating one of the petitions for Williams was (former Republican) Supervisor Ed Wilbourn, I-Gainesville.

Virginia does not require voters to register according to political party which often makes primaries fun to watch and hectic for partisan candidates. There are always rumors after each primary that one party sent their legions to the other party’s primary to sway the election in favor of the most unelectable candidate.

Some will call Williams a ringer — a proxy candidate doing the sheriff’s dirty work to make the GOP primary miserable for Connaughton. But this mule in elephant’s clothing is in the race to protect the sheriff in his own primary. Party primaries aren’t confined to Republicans or Democrats, but a voter can only vote in one.

Sheriff Stoffregen has a challenger in the Democratic primary and more than a few Democrats have referred to the candidacy of John Collier as the work of the sheriff’s political adversaries. True or not, had there been a county-wide Democratic primary and not a Republican primary (regardless of the office), Stoffregen would have been exposed to GOP crossover voters who could have ousted the sheriff in the Democratic primary.

Williams’ candidacy insures that Democrats will have to vote for their guy, Stoffregen, in the sheriff’s primary, while Republicans guard Connaughton’s candidacy in the GOP race.

This is the local political equivalent of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) once used to describe the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and USSR. One party could risk sending its voters over to the other party’s primary, but any attempt would come at the risk of their own candidate — whether it be Connaughton or Stoffregen.

In the end, it appears that the June 10 races for each nomination will have Democrats nominating Democrats and Republicans nominating Republicans.

This, however, may explain why Wilbourn was so quick to flee the GOP. With little prospect of crossover voters, he risked losing the Republican nomination to John Stirrup. He only won the 1999 GOP primary by 11 votes. A three-way race in November favors Wilbourn and bolting the party was a strategic move to ensure reelection.

Never a dull moment.