Ending weeks of speculation, Del. Chap Petersen (D-37th) said last week he was toying with the idea of running for lieutenant governor in 2005.
"It's something I'm thinking about," said Petersen, a two-term member of the House of Delegates. "There's no campaign as of yet."
Petersen said he hasn't formally announced his candidacy and has not raised any money toward a statewide effort. That will come this summer, he said.
A 36-year-old Fairfax City native, Petersen surprised political observers in 2001 when he upset longtime incumbent John Rust (R), a member of the House Republican leadership. Last year, Petersen defeated Rust again in a rematch.
Before serving in the House, Petersen served two terms on the Fairfax City Council.
"I've been fortunate enough to take people on and win elections at the local level, and when I look at the state of Virginia, I say, 'Gosh, I disagree with the leadership in the House of Delegates,'" he said. "I can keep punching people silly in Fairfax. I think I've shown that I can do that. If you really want to make a difference in the state as a whole, you've got to think about running for another office."
IN HIS TIME in the House, Petersen, who works as a lawyer when he's not legislating, has established himself as a conservative Democrat. Last week, he bucked his party and voted against capping the car tax relief program, saying car tax relief sends millions of dollars to Northern Virginia governments. He also voted for a bill sponsored by Robert Marshall (R-13th) that would forbid gay and lesbian couples from entering into contracts.
"If you look at my voting record, it's clear I'm on the moderate or conservative wing of the Democratic Party, but I pride myself on being independent and representing the 37th District. I have obviously gone to bat for that area."
Petersen said he was contemplating running for lieutenant governor because he wanted a statewide platform. The lieutenant governor has little executive power but serves as president of the Senate and possible successor to the governor. Often, lieutenant governors use the position as a bully pulpit to set the stage for a gubernatorial run.
"You are a statewide official, and you have a statewide megaphone," said Petersen.
When asked whether he would consider a gubernatorial run in the future, Petersen would only say, "I don't run to hold [the lieutenant governor's seat] for life. You run to advocate on certain issues, you run to build a platform and you run with an eye towards the future."
IF PETERSEN does decide to throw his hat in the ring for the state's No. 2 job, he'll have Del. Stephen Shannon (D-35th) to thank or to blame.
"I was one of the people who suggested that he consider running," said Shannon, a first-term delegate, who is also Petersen's roommate in Richmond. "I think he'd be great. He's got elective experience at both the state and local levels. He's shown that he can win tough races. ... I'm going to do whatever I can for him.
"Most lawyers, when they think about running for statewide office, gravitate towards running for attorney general," Shannon said. "But there's a lot of upside associated with running for lieutenant governor: it's a statewide office, the Democratic field does not appear to be as crowded. It might be easier to get the nomination, and it's the type of job that, when the legislature is not in session, you can spend a lot of time going around the state."
Norval Hensley, who until last week chaired the Fairfax City Democratic Committee, said Petersen talked to him about his run a couple of weeks ago.
"Chap doesn't surprise me anymore," said Hensley. "He's a very resourceful and very bright young man. If he thinks he can do it, there's no doubt in my mind he can do it."
Although it may seem odd that a relatively fresh-faced delegate should turn his sights to statewide office, Petersen has a ready retort: "How many years of college basketball did LeBron James play?" he asked, referring to the basketball phenom who went straight from high school to the NBA.
"When you feel like you're ready, you don't stick around."
And how does his family feel about his ambitions?
"Fortunately, since I'm 36, I don't need my mom's permission," he deadpanned. His wife, he said, "is kind of resigned to the fact that I want to chase these things.
"I don't want to be doing this when I'm 56 or 66. I've always thought politics, for better of for worse, is a young person's business."