Virginia House: A Small Test for McDonnell

If you're hungry for an election outside of Texas today, look no further than the race between Democrat Eileen Filler-Corn and Republican Kerry Bolognese ...
by | March 2, 2010
 

If you're hungry for an election outside of Texas today, look no further than the race between Democrat Eileen Filler-Corn and Republican Kerry Bolognese in Virginia's 41st House District.

The special election became necessary after the occupant of the 41st, Democrat Dave Marsden, won a hotly contested special election for the Virginia Senate in January. Bolognese ran for this seat in November, losing to Marsden 50%-49%. Filler-Corn also has campaigned for this seat previously.

The two candidates seem to have stuck to the conventional themes of their two parties. Filler-Corn is defending education funding, Bolognese is emphasizing his opposition to tax increases. Both candidates are lobbyists, but, since this is Northern Virginia, no one minds.

If you'd like to stretch a little, you could call this race an early referendum on Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has faced several small controversies in his first weeks in office. He dropped his pick for commerce secretary (and appointed him to a position that didn't require confirmation) after Democrats objected to the nominee's membership on corporate boards. He broke with precedent and didn't introduce his own budget, leaving legislators to grapple with the state's fiscal problems. He delayed plans to find additional funding for transportation, a key issue during the gubernatorial campaign.

On the other hand, McDonnell has earned good reviews for his appointments, which include some notable moderates. He's struck a conciliatory tone with Democrats in the legislature. He's following through on his pledge to reopen the state's closed rest stops. And, both houses of the legislature have approved budgets that reflect the governor's opposition to tax increases.

A Republican victory in the 41st District would be a pretty impressive vote of confidence for McDonnell. The district leans Democratic, but gave the governor 55% of the vote in November. I know that thanks to the good people at the Virginia Public Access Project, which compiles statewide election results in every legislative district. Here are the recent results in the 41st (statewide winners in bold):

Virginia 41st District

(As an aside, every secretary of state's office should make this district-level data available. There's also a competitive-sounding special election for Connecticut House today, but I know of no easy way to get the same sort of data.)

Democrats have consistently done a little better in the 41st than they have statewide. For that reason, and because she enjoys a financial edge, I'd say Filler-Corn is a narrow favorite, despite a national political environment that is favorable to Republicans and Bolognese's close call in November.

If Filler-Corn does win, it will be at most a mild rebuke of McDonnell. Perhaps more precisely, it will reflect that just as Virginia didn't become a Democratic state because of the party's victories in 2008, it didn't suddenly become a Republican state because of the party's victories in 2009.

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

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