A spirited campaign is shaping up to replace retiring state Sen. Warren Barry (R-37). Of the three contenders vying for his seat so far, two are Republican — Mike Thompson and Ken Cuccinelli and one is a Democrat — Springfield School Board member Cathy Belter.
Barry said he favored Thompson for the Republican nomination. "I've had a working relationship with Mike Thompson who's a really sharp guy. He's got a handle on state government."
Barry also said Thompson's Republican opponent, Cuccinelli was "a nut."
"I don't mean he belongs in an asylum," he said. "He simply doesn't have the qualifications. … All he does is attack everything."
Belter would pose a difficult challenge to Thompson, Barry added. "She's a pretty qualified gal too," he said.
After retiring from the Senate, Barry will join the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) board. He said the governor appointed him because of his business and legislative experience.
"He wants me on the road around the state to see what we can do with the ABC system," Barry said.
No date has been set yet for the special election. When Barry submits his official resignation which is expected for June 5, Gov. Mark Warner (D) will schedule the election.
According to state law, special elections cannot be scheduled within 60 days of a general election. This means that the date Warner sets will either be before the Labor Day weekend or Barry's seat will remain vacant until the Nov. 5 general elections.
Whoever wins this fall will have to run again to hold onto the seat in next year's regularly-scheduled Senate race.
"My biggest issue is going to be government accountability," said Thompson, who runs the bipartisan Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, which studies ways of making state and local government in Virginia more efficient.
Thompson emphasized the need for public-private partnerships in creating better government efficiency. "We have a business man as Governor, let's bring a business man as senator."
Cuccinelli, a patent lawyer in Centreville, said he has been campaigning for Barry's seat ever since Barry endorsed Warner for governor. The endorsement, he said, "wasn't a new turn of events for Barry so much as a continuation of a pattern that wasn't appreciated by the grassroots Republicans."
Cuccinelli added that Barry's appointment to the ABC board was political payback for the endorsement. "It's a governor paying back a supporter. It's something he gets to do as governor."
Among the issues Cuccinelli said he is planning to run on are transportation and abortion.
"In terms of issues that are on the front burner, [education] is just not as high up as transportation," he said.
Belter did not return calls for comment.