Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and talk show host Mark Levine, two gay candidates running in the June 10 Democratic primary for Virginia’s 8th District U.S. House seat, appear to be trailing presumed frontrunner Don Beyer, the state’s former lieutenant governor.
According to virtually all political observers familiar with the race, Ebbin and Levine are in the same boat as four other candidates believed to be trailing Beyer – they lack the name recognition and campaign funds that Beyer has amassed.
With all of the candidates, including Beyer, expressing strong support for LGBT rights and marriage equality, LGBT voters in the overwhelmingly liberal-leaning, Democratic district must choose between Ebbin and Levine and four straight allies.
The seat for the 8th District, which includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and parts of Fairfax County, became open when longtime Rep. Jim Moran (D), announced earlier this year that he planned to retire after completing his current term in January.
In the last of at least a dozen debates in the hotly contested race, which was held May 30 in Arlington, Ebbin and Levine joined the other candidates in explaining why voters should choose them as Moran’s successor.
Ebbin, who has served as a state delegate and later state senator for more than 10 years, said he has been a proven fighter for progressive causes and legislation that has benefited his district and the state.
“I’m the only one up here who has successfully expanded Medicaid in Virginia to provide parental care for unwed moms,” he said. “I’m the only one up here to provide insurance access to LGBT couples.”
Adding that he stood up to ultra conservative and anti-gay former state attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Ebbin told the debate audience of more than 300 people, “I’m the only one up here to call himself unabashedly a liberal tonight.”
Levine, who served as legislative counsel for former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), took a more aggressive posture at the debate, criticizing Beyer for having a history of “caving in to Republicans.” Levine also criticized State Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), another of the candidates running for the congressional seat, for working in his regular job for a doctors’ trade association that Levine said contributes more money to Republicans than Democrats.
Beyer and Hope disputed Levine’s claims, saying they each have a longstanding progressive record.
Levine, who calls himself an aggressive progressive, told the Blade after the debate that he would be far more assertive than the other candidates in pushing for progressive legislation in Congress.
“I’m not a lobbyist for any particular group,” he said. “I’m a lobbyist for ordinary people.”
Beyer raise the issue of his position on LGBT rights during the debate. In response to a question directed to all candidates asking if they ever changed their position on a controversial political issue, Beyer said he had.
He noted that in 1995 and 1996 then gay Democratic activist Adam Ebbin and other members of Virginia’s LGBT Democratic club, Virginia Partisans, sent him a questionnaire asking about his position on same-sex marriage.
He returned the questionnaires saying, “I didn’t think gay marriage was feasible or practical and I wasn’t for it,” he said at the debate. “I was wrong.”
But a short time later, similar to President Obama, Beyer said his views evolved on the issue and he came to support marriage equality. But 2006, when a state constitutional amendment was placed on the ballot in Virginia, he was among the largest contributors to the campaign to oppose it, he said.
“And I will say now that I am a very strong believer in marriage equality,” Beyer told the debate audience. “And I would like to thank Adam Ebbin for leading in this journey.”
In a development that surprised some in the LGBT community, longtime Virginia gay Democratic activist Nick Benton, the editor and publisher of the Falls Church News-Press, endorsed Beyer in an editorial earlier this year.
While praising Ebbin and Levine as highly qualified candidates, Benton told the Blade that he believes Beyer has the breadth of experience as a businessman, diplomat and former lieutenant governor to make him the best choice to replace Moran in Congress.
“I think a lot of people appreciate him not just as lieutenant governor but what he did for initiating the campaign for Obama and then fundraising for Obama,” Benton said.
He was referring to Beyer’s role as one of Virginia’s leading supporters of Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Obama won Virginia both times. He later appointed Beyer, the owner of a chain of car dealerships in Virginia, as U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland.
The other candidates running for the seat are Alexandria Mayor William Euille, Virginia Tech professor Derek Hyra, and former Virginia Urban League director Lavern Chatman.