Incumbent politicians and establishment candidates will fare well in Virginia's primaries this year, and challengers are clamoring that it's because the state's supposedly neutral Republican and Democratic parties are actually playing favorites.
Candidates from both parties complain that unfair tactics by party leaders are hampering their efforts to gain traction with voters. Party officials insist they have no preferences in the primaries.
"The party is absolutely neutral in the Senate primary and in all primaries," said Pete Snyder, chairman of the Republican Virginia Victory 2012 campaign.
Arlington resident Bruce Shuttleworth, who is challenging long-time Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., sued the state Democratic Party after it claimed he didn't qualify for the June 12 primary ballot.
Moreover, Moran was a keynote speaker at the party's district convention last week and will speak again at its June 2 statewide convention. Shuttleworth got three minutes to talk last week and hasn't heard if he'll even speak at the next one.
"I get that incumbents would generally have standing to speak," Shuttleworth said, "but clearly during a contested primary race you'd like to see the party striving for as much fair play and equal exposure as possible."
Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran, Jim Moran's brother, said the conventions are a time to "recognize our incumbents and feature our challengers."
Republican candidates challenging former Gov. George Allen for the party's U.S. Senate nomination suggested they were hamstrung by the party when it scheduled all their debates with Allen for Friday nights and a Saturday, when few are paying attention.
"It would have been nice to have more television there and at a time when, you know, people are actually watching," candidate Jamie Radtke said.
Del. Bob Marshall, a Manassas Republican and Senate candidate, said state lawmakers redrew his district last year so he'd have to fight for re-election rather than run against Allen.
"Obviously, the people in charge try to get the advantage for the person they are more likely to support, and there's nothing on Earth you can to do to change that," Marshall said.
Virginia's complaints of party interference in nominating contests are not unlike conservatives' claims that the Republican establishment tilted the presidential primary to favor Mitt Romney.
When parties play favorites, it's usually to boost the candidate that leaders think can win the fall election, said Paul Goldman, former Virginia Democratic Party chairman.
"They can make it clear who the party wants, and who they think is going to win and what problems someone might pose," Goldman said. "It's easy to make it seem that someone doesn't have much of a chance."