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A Woman for Virginia Governor?


Former Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry's announcement that she will seek the Democratic Party nomination for governor this year sets up the possibility of another historic first in the traditionally conservative Old Dominion. Four years ago, L. Douglas Wilder made history when Virginians elected him as the nation's first black governor since Reconstruction.

If elected, Ms. Terry would be the first woman to govern Virginia. With the exception of Ann Richards of Texas, she also would become the only woman politician in a state of the former Confederacy to win the governorship on the strength of her own name rather than that of a husband.

Ms. Terry, who was one of those considered as U.S. attorney general by the Clinton administration, resigned her state office last month to head off Republican conflict-of-interest charges stemming from her dual roles as Virginia attorney general and gubernatorial candidate. Another former attorney general, Gerald Baliles, also took that route when he ran successfully for governor.

Ms. Terry's announcement had been widely expected since she won re-election as Virginia's first woman attorney general four years ago. Her bid for governor has been painstakingly plotted for the past decade, during which Democrats have had a virtually unbreakable lock on Virginia's major statewide offices -- governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

In her announcement speech, Ms. Terry pledged to make the needs of families and children priorities of her administration and peppered her remarks with Clintonesque references to "new government" and the need to streamline state government, cut red tape and focus on education, the economy, health care and crime.

A politician with establishment ties who hews closely to Virginia Democrats' winning formula of fiscal conservatism tempered by progressive social policies, Ms. Terry has patched up her feud with Governor Wilder and has amassed a $1.5 million war chest. At the party's nominating convention in May she faces token opposition and likely will run against a Republican Party in disarray. So far the only real worry Ms. Terry has is that voters may find her too dull. But in Virginia, even that can be an asset. As Joe Elton, the state's GOP director grudgingly conceded, "I don't think that being boring hurts you in Virginia."

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