After everything Virginia Democrats believed would make it a lock for their candidate Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax to take the job, they’re in a tight battle to keep the seat open as allegations of sexual assault haunt him. Now Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne and former White House staffer Patty Mahan are battling in the Democratic primary, and McAuliffe’s office is playing a key role.
“All of these people have served Virginia well, and everybody that’s running is a good-faith Democrat and I trust them to make this a good and positive and winnable campaign,” said McAuliffe on Tuesday, talking to reporters with veteran Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly by his side.
NBC News Senior White House Correspondent Alex Seitz-Wald, who is covering this race full time, told Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt that history is not on their side. “Since 1933, when a vote for lieutenant governor was first invented, incumbent lieutenant governors have lost 90 percent of the time. It just doesn’t happen.”
The last time a contested race was settled in the primary was last year when Rep. Dan Kildee defeated incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz in the primary, but that was after all the write-in ballots had been counted.
In order to bring Virginia down to its lowest tiebreaker, the state’s Supreme Court referred the case back to the Franklin Circuit Court for a trial, the first time a challenger was allowed to do so. The term “jury trial” doesn’t really apply for Lt. Governor but it’s set up as a fact-finding body with the burden of proof completely on the defense.
The case is being handled by two veteran judges who have never served on a political bench. Neither of them are close to the kind of partisan rancor that is seeping into the campaign.
Both sides turned in their opening statements at least a week ago and a judge will have to rule on the case fairly soon, well before the July 14 primary.
Mahan and Layne will likely face off on the general election ballot in November if they don’t pull out a victory in the June 26 primary. If Mahan wins then, she would be automatically appointed as the sitting Lt. Governor, and a number of rules will allow her to hold on to the spot should Fairfax resign for the sake of his own candidacy, which he maintains is in doubt.
A source close to Mahan said that they’re worried that the case may drag on and that the challenger could be left behind if, for instance, she doesn’t provide a high-profile name. The source notes the Dewey-esque titles Mahan has recently been bestowed, governor and lieutenant governor-designate, suggest they are making an attempt to raise her profile.
A final decision is expected to be announced sometime in July. Mahan said in an interview with the Commonwealth that she looks forward to the fact her case is being handled by two independent judges.