Winning The 37th State Senate Seat Is Going To Be Tough

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

As if we needed more proof that Republicans are energized right now, here's exhibit c d e f g:
Northern Virginia Republicans voted Tuesday night in a primary to pick a state Senate candidate to replace Attorney General-elect Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II.

Three conservative candidates campaigned for the Republican nomination in a district that voted two times for Mr. Cuccinelli and came out solidly for Republicans last month.

But Mr. Cuccinelli was the last Republican state senator representing the voter-rich D.C. suburbs, which have been trending Democratic in recent years.

By 10 p.m., more than 1,700 people had cast ballots at Centreville High School in the "firehouse primary," which was scheduled to last from 6 to 10 p.m. A firehouse primary is an electoral nominating process similar to a caucus, held in lieu of a primary election.

At one point, lines of cars stretched over a mile from the high school. When the voters' line was closed at 10 p.m., about 350 people still stood outside. They were allowed to vote.
Whoa - 1.700 people coming out on the Tuesday right after Thanksgiving for a special election "firehouse primary?" As much as I hate to say it, that's extremely impressive and does not bode well at all for Democratic nominee Dave Marsden in the special election to replace State Senator Ken Cuccinelli on January 12, 2010. Unfortunately, we've seen this movie before, with Charniele Herring barely defeating Republican Joe Murray in Brian Moran's (overwhelmingly "blue") House of Delegates district (1/13/09), with Sharon Bulova barely beating Republican Patrick Herrity for Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (2/3/09), Ilryong Moon losing to John Cook for Braddock District (Fairfax County) Supervisor (3/10/09), and of course with the total meltdown of November 3, 2009. Based on the Republican turnout last night in Centreville, I'm not sure how this streak isn't going to continue into 2010.

By the way, the Republican nominee for this seat is former Fairfax county school board member Steve Hunt, who won in a landslide (51%-25%-24%). According to the Washington Post:
Hunt apparently benefited from his reputation as an outspoken conservative on both social and economic issues. While all three candidates are conservative, he was seen by many as the one most likely to appeal to GOP grass-roots activists. A retired naval flight officer, Hunt lives in Fairfax Station and works in the defense contracting industry.
So here are my questions for Democrats: 1) where's the equivalent enthusiasm/energy on our side; 2) where's the "outspoken [progressive] on both social and economic issues;" and 3) where's the candidate who can "most likely appeal to [Democratic] grass-roots activists?" Right now, I'm simply not seeing it. Please feel free to explain why I'm wrong and how winning this seat - an absolute must, by the way, if Democrats hope to hold the State Senate and stop the Republicans' radical right-wing agenda - is not going to be really, really tough.

P.S. One thing we should definitely do is focus on how right wing Steve Hunt is: strongly anti-abortion, hysterical about "freedoms of speech, worship and assembly" being "at risk" (huh?), anti-government, anti-health-care-reform, anti-"public option," anti-environment (against "cap and trade," for offshore drilling and so-called "clean coal"), etc. Basically, Steve Hunt will be a lockstep supporter of Pat Robertson's Manchurian Candidate Governor, as well as of Ken Kookinelli and his...well, Kookiness. That's the last thing we need more of in Richmond.


  1. For starters, we could have found a candidate who lives in the district. Hard to get enthused about a someone who promises to move there if he wins.

    You can bet the opposition is excited about keeping the Cooch's seat. I saw the traffic stacked up on Braddock Road last night. I thought it was just a traffic accident.

    And it looks like they'll be hunting for more seats in the Fall. Senator Barker (the invisible man) comes to mind.

  2. The firehouse primary for the 81st House District was about the same time last year (11/29/08), and it had more votes than this one (2,000+).

  3. And the Republican primary this Saturday in the Virginia Beach 8th District has generated a lot of angst. Unlike the 37th, a statewide elected has weighed in supporting McWaters; Bolling to be specific (birds of a feather). And McWaters' opponent is attempting to paint him a liberal who supports mandatory health insurance and who is not a "real" Republican. Meanwhile McWaters is taking a page from the Mathieson playbook charging that his opponent voted to increase her own pay on city council and adds that she voted to raise taxes and spend billions. Without a Democratic opponent in the special election, it is gloves off, winner takes all.

  4. I agree that this election is going to be very, very tough. And anyone who doubts that Republicans are ready for a fight is kidding themselves.

    However, I would caution about taking too much from this single event alone. For instance, in the firehouse primary Democrats held last year to replace Sharon Bulova's seat, there was similiar turnout and enthusiasm. And, in the most obvious example, remember the turnout and enthusiasm when Creigh Deeds "overwhelmingly" won the primary just a few months ago?

    Very recent history teaches us that this result need not indicate anything other than a good primary election.

    But let's go back to my first comment -- this election is going to be very, very hard, and we need all hands on deck in any way you can.

  5. The turnout in the firehouse primary for Moon was high, I don't even remember there being one for Bulova as she was unopposed.

    This seat is winnable, but it will have to be a hard win.

  6. The point is, the turnout for Moon wasn't high enough in the general election, the turnout for Bulova was barely high enough, and the turnout for Deeds wasn't even close to sufficient. My question is why should we expect this situation to change in a few weeks from now?

  7. I don't think we can expect it to change. In fact, if we DO expect it to change, I think we lose.

    But as most of us know, having been around campaigns for decades, it isn't only enthusiasm that wins elections. Don't get me wrong -- I would far and away rather be the party that has enthusiasm on its side. But sometimes you just don't have it, and you have to make the best of it. Right now, almost every Virginia Democrat I know is exhausted -- and I don't know that any candidate out there could inspire or enthuse them. Which means it comes back to party activists doing their job and turning out the voters. And it will be harder this time than it was even a few weeks ago, since there will be almost no media coverage of this election.

    But we still have to try. The other advantage of having been in politics long enough is the knowledge that sometimes, beyond all reasonable expectations, you do sometimes pull these elections out.

  8. I find myself in the unusual position of generally agreeing with Lowell (except with the P.S.) on the 37th Senate race. As a participant and worker at the Republican Canvass last evening, I can attest to the enthusiasm of everyone. We can "feel and smell" victory. Many of the 1900 people who voted last night cannot wait to get started to support Steve Hunt. As for the P.S., Steve has views on the important social and fiscal issues that fit well within the conservative Republican framework and they are similar to the views of Ken Cuccinelli (somehow you always misspell his name??).

    May I offer several interesting facts? In the Attorney General race, Ken carried his 37th District with 54.3% of the vote despite the Washington Post and other commentators slamming his positions. Also, Steve Hunt has carried the 37th District in all three of the county-wide races he has made for school board. Steve has a significant name recognition across the district whereas Dave Marsden has none whatsoever in over 2/3 of the district. I am confident that we will hold the 37th for the Republicans.

  9. Keith: No, I believe "Kookinelli" is the correct spelling. :)

  10. One small point that makes this election different is that unlike most of the losses in November, the incumbent party is the Republican one. Something I will be stressing as I campaign is "balance" in Richmond -- do people really want the Republican party to control the governor's mansion, the House of Delegates and the State Senate? This type of argument has strong appeal among independents, especially in VA, with its contrary libertarian streak.

  11. The incumbent party in Virginia continues to be the Democrat party. Up until this year, the Democrats have rolled. I believe that the 2009 successes of the Republicans are, at least partially, a reaction to the Democrat incumbency but I don't think this reaction is over as yet. The reaction against the Democrats will continue for several more election cycles until the Republicans really become the incumbent party in the eyes of the voters. Then the forces will change and I may well be sending out distress signals.

    I don't see the dynamics in the 37th indicating that the voters are ready to throw out the Republican incumbent since the perception continues that the Democrats are the incumbent party - regardless of which party holds any given seat.

  12. Cuccinelli did worst of the three statewide candidates in November. Bolling got 55% and McDonnell got 57% in the district. Also, I doubt many of the people going to a Republican firehouse primary will come out of it fired up to vote for a Democrat.

  13. kg -- I don't completely disagree. But I do think there is merit to many Americans being uncomfortable with one party controlling all three major governing bodies. Many independents see the parties as being a check and balance on the other. It's a sentiment I hear Virginia voters talking about all the time, regardless of whether they lean left or right.

  14. Gretchen: Even with the win on January 12, the Republicans will still be 19-21 in the Senate so we already have the check you refer to.

    JohnnyLT: Your statistics just show that the 37th is now basically a Republican district. Considering the WaPo attempt to destroy McDonnell with the continuous thesis story, a 57% win just shows there is a strong Republican base in the district. Ken's 54.3% is hardly a rejection of his philosophy. The lower % more likely is a result of Steve Shannon actually having a presence in that area of Fairfax County whereas the 65-75% that Ken received in other parts of Virginia just shows acceptance of Ken's philosophy and Steve total inability to gain any name recognition throughout most of the Commonwealth.

  15. Keith: There have been a lot of rumors that Edd Houck will be joining the McDonnell administration. If true, there goes the 21-19 "check and balance."

  16. True but do you believe that many voters actually know anything about this rumor? I agree that this might become a campaign issue if it actually happens but I doubt it. I still maintain that the energy and enthusiasm that the Republicans have and the reaction against the Democrats will be the predominant factors in this special election. Concerns about checks and balances will be minor considerations. Specifically I doubt that a "checks and balances" campaign issue by Marsden would catch on or be understood because of the more predominant factors controlling this special.

  17. So Crazy Cooch only got 54% in his "home" Senate district on a night he won statewide by 15%? He basically underperformed in his home district.

    If Republicans start to assume that Fairfax is a Republican area again, I hope they do since it's 100% incorrect. In a massive wave year, the top of the ticket only won by ~2,000 votes and the LtG and AG candidates lost. Even in about the worst combo of turnout and Democratic enthusiasm, Republicans barely won one of three statewide seats and only picked up two delegate seats, one of which was by less than 1%.

    That said, I would say that Hunt is the guy to beat in this special election, but Marsden does represent a third of that district today and was just reelected 4 weeks ago. His campaign staff is in place. Special elections are very hard to gauge but Marsden is the strongest Dem that could plausibly run.

    Lowell, my point on Moon is, he had a lot of support in a firehouse primary that had pretty heavy attendance, and later lost the special election. 1,700-1,900 enthusiastic Republicans sound like a lot but when you compare that to the 200,000 thousand or so people who live in the 37th and the 140,000 or whatever registered voters, it's a pretty small percentage.

  18. Keith -- if you're like me, you aren't going indepth with most voters. I'm perfectly capable of talking about the rumors when I'm speaking with people, but I'm talking more about a generalized talking point. It's not eloquent, but such short sound bites can really move an election along.

    Personally, I'd like to see a handy talking point that gets a single idea across. Something like FAIRFAX WORKS! Or KEEP FAIRFAX WORKING! -- something that places an emphasis on jobs and our local economy. That unemployment in Fairfax is lower (in some locations, much lower) than the national average is a nuance most voters don't give a rat's ass about if they have lost their job, konw someone who has lost their job, or worry that they might lose their job. Sometimes blunt get the job done where a scalpel does not.

    All this said, I was at the Marsden initial campaign meeting tonight and was very pleased by the tone and energy I saw. We have some really good people, there was quite a bit of talk about learing from past mistakes, and an active attempt to try some new ideas.

    (By nature, I'm really hard on Democratic campaigns. I'm rather pessimistic -- expect the worst, hope for the best -- even under otherwise good circumstances. (Reagan Traumatic Stress Syndrome?) So when I say something was "pleasantly surprising" that sounds tepid, but it means very good things.)