In Virginia, a Test of Democratic Gains

Democrats control the presidency, both houses of Congress, a majority of governorships, most state legislatures and, I'm guessing, most of the nation's offices ...
by | February 3, 2009

Democrats control the presidency, both houses of Congress, a majority of governorships, most state legislatures and, I'm guessing, most of the nation's offices of dog catcher. In that context, it's clear that one party is worried about the losing streak that it's on: the Democrats.

This losing streak is real, if you squint. Republicans have fared well in elections held since November. Democrats lost the U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia in December. They lost two special elections for the U.S. House in Louisiana. Republicans held a state Senate seat in Texas. In Virginia, in one House of Delegates special election, the Democrat only received 17% of the vote. In another, in overwhelmingly Democratic territory, the Democrat held on by just 16 votes.

Taken individually, there are pretty good explanation for all six of these results. Four of the races were held in heavily G.O.P. places. Another involved a congressman, Bill Jefferson, who had $90,000 in cash in his freezer, according to the FBI (that never looks good). In the final one, the House of Delegates race that the Democrat barely won, pretty much no one realized the election was taking place.

Still, when taken together, these elections are reason enough for any Democrat who is prone to paranoia and doubt to be a little bit nervous. Are Democratic voters suddenly complacent, while the Republicans are hungry?

We'll get something of an answer today. Fairfax County, Virginia is voting on a new county board chairman. Fairfax is the largest jurisdiction in Virginia, with about a million residents. Fairfax gave Barack Obama 60% of the vote in November, but until quite recently it was a swing county. In fact, not too long ago it leaned Republican. In 2004, John Kerry was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Fairfax County in 40 years.

Today, however, Fairfax is the starting point for any statewide Democratic victory in Virginia. As a result, the county board chairman contest is being viewed as a bellwether for the governor's race this fall in Virginia. Here's the Washington Post preview of the race:

In the final weekend before a special election for Fairfax County board chairman, the contest has become as much a referendum on Virginia partisan politics as it is on who can lead the region's largest community during a brutal economic downturn.

Democrats in particular have taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensuring victory for Sharon S. Bulova (Braddock), the vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, who faces Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (Springfield), a Republican, and two independents in tomorrow's election. The candidates are competing to replace Democrat Gerald E. Connolly, who won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

State Democrats say their goal is to keep momentum strong as they head toward crucial fall elections for governor and the House of Delegates. They also want a partner at the helm in Fairfax, home to one in seven Virginians, to tackle such issues as congestion relief, environmental stewardship, school quality and job creation, several said.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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