RICHMOND, Vs. (AP)--Ralph Northam, a Norfolk doctor who became a hero of Virginia's reproductive-rights movement, and fellow state Sen. Mark Herring won statewide Democratic primaries Tuesday for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.
Two respected senior Republican House members, however, were felled by conservative challengers as each sought an 11th term in the General Assembly.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist and the only physician in the Senate, won a large following among female voters in 2012 when he used medical authority to thunder against a Republican-authored bill that would have required an intrusive ultrasound exam of every woman seeking an abortion.
Northam took nearly 55 percent of the vote over former Aneesh Chopra, who used his connections as former White House technology chief under President Barack Obama and Virginia technology secretary under Gov. Tim Kaine to more than double Northam's campaign fundraising.
That sets up a clash of ideological opposites in the Nov. 5 election, pitting Northam against Republican E.W. Jackson, a stridently anti-abortion black minister who accused Planned Parenthood of being more deadly to African-American lives than the Ku Klux Klan because of the number of abortions performed on black women.
On Twitter, Chopra conceded to Northam using the hashtag "Unity." Northam commended Chopra for a "spirited race" and, at among supporters at a Norfolk sports bar, pledged to take the fight to Jackson and what he called a socially extreme GOP ticket.
"The assault on women's health care is going to stop this year," Northam said.
In the only other statewide race, Herring struggled against first-time candidate Justin Fairfax, winning with about 52 percent of the vote over the one-time aide to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and a staff member on Al Gore's 2000 presidential bid.
The results came in a primary that will be remembered for its paltry turnout. Less than 3 percent of the state's 5.2 million registered voters went to the polls to vote in the two Democratic down-ballot contests and 11 House of Delegates primaries.
With the state's gubernatorial nominations already decided for Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry R. McAuliffe, there was no marquee race.
Once the returns were in, McAuliffe issed the following statement on the democratic ticket, ""I would like to congratulate Ralph Northam on becoming the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Ralph has dedicated his career to improving the lives of Virginia's families and communities, both as a State Senator for Virginia and as a pediatric neurologist. Ralph has been a tireless advocate for women's health, has worked to strengthen our education systems, and helped pass crucial legislation aimed at improving the health of Virginians and protecting first responders. I look forward to the work Ralph and I will do together to make Virginia the best state in the nation to do business and raise a family.
"I want to also congratulate Mark Herring on becoming the Democratic nominee for Attorney General of Virginia. The critical work Mark did as co-patron of the bipartisan transportation compromise is a testament to his commitment to tackling the challenges Virginia's communities face in a bipartisan manner. I look forward to continuing to work with him on issues he has been a leader on in the State Senate representing Loudoun and Fairfax counties."
In a news release, Cuccinelli's Campaign Manager, Dave Rexrode, said, ""Today, Virginia Democrats nominated three individuals that share a common bond: a clear history of support for policies-including higher taxes, big government programs and anti-competitive regulations- that will move Virginia backwards. Whether it's their support for ObamaCare and billions in tax hikes, hostility to Virginia coal and offshore oil exploration, or openness to altering the Commonwealth's right-to-work status, there's no question that the 2013 Democrat ticket will be among the most liberal in Virginia history. If elected, all three candidates will seek to advance ideologically driven, Washington, DC policies that will only exacerbate the uncertainty felt by so many job creators across the Commonwealth."
While turnout was low across the board, it ranged from 0.006 of registered voters in King William County to about 12 percent in Petersburg, a heavily Democratic region and venue for that party's most bitterly contested House primary.
In that race, Del. Rosalyn Dance, a former Petersburg mayor, defeated challenger Evandra Thompson by about 6 percentage points. Thompson had been recruited and backed by Democratic Del. Joe Morrissey and state Sen. Henry Marsh after Dance infuriated fellow Democrats by supporting a Republican-authored budget that made no provision for expanding Medicaid to about 400,000 Virginia working poor and voiced support for an ambush-style Republican effort to redraw state Senate boundaries.
Democratic Del. Algie T. Howell of Norfolk easily turned aside challenger Rick James.
Eight of the House primaries were for Republican seats, and five of them were challenges to incumbents, including House Speaker William J. Howell and three committee chairmen.
Two of the Republican incumbents, Dels. Joe May of Loudoun and Beverly Sherwood of Frederick County, lost to challengers from the Republican right motivated by the legislators' support for this year's landmark transportation funding reform law that takes effect next month.
May was chairman of the House Transportation Committee and Sherwood chaired the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. Both had been in the House since 1994.
The transportation bill - sponsored by Speaker Howell and the legislative legacy of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell - deeply divided legislative Republicans. Supporters defended it as the cure for chronic gridlock that threatened to stall the state's most populous and economically vibrant regions while conservatives, including national anti-tax leader Grover Norquist, condemned it as the largest tax increase in Virginia history.
Two other challenged Republican incumbents, Dels. Todd Gilbert and House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee Chairman Bobby Orrock, survived conservative efforts to unseat them.