Virginia Voters: Low Turnout, High Dudgeon
Not a whole lot of Virginians came out to the polls Tuesday, but those who did made some things pretty clear: Democrats remain more than a bit miffed about George Allen and the whole macaca business, Republicans would like to remind their party's leaders that theirs is supposed to be the party of low taxes and skepticism about state spending, and the electorate is poised to make some serious changes this fall.
The smattering of primary elections held in this year when more voters are likely looking ahead to the '08 presidential sweepstakes than are concentrated on state politics cannot offer any absolutely firm conclusions, but the results are dramatic enough to lead both parties to do some serious thinking.
One of the most impressive and delicious results was the ouster of Democratic state Sen. Benny Lambert by Richmond Delegate Donald McEachin. This was a grudge match driven in good part by McEachin and his fellow Dems' desire to punish Lambert for having been the most prominent Democrat and the most prominent black politician in the state to have endorsed George Allen last fall in his U.S. Senate reelection bid. That purportedly traitorous act made Lambert Enemy #1 to many Dems, and the voters apparently concurred. Lambert defended his decision as a tribute to Allen's support for historically black colleges--certainly a worthy cause, but to many Democrats, not nearly sufficient to make up for Allen's racial and other insensitivities.
Will this derail Allen's slowly mounting comeback crusade? Hardly likely. With Virginia's statewide races over the next couple of years so much up in the air, there may well be a place on a gubernatorial or senatorial ballot for Allen, who, after all, did lose to Jim Webb by only 9,000 votes.
But Lambert was not the only sitting state senator to lose his seat in this June primary. Two moderate Republican incumbents lost to conservative challengers who accused the sitting senators of having morphed into big spenders just like the party's now widely disliked standard-bearer, the president of these United States. Martin Williams of Newport News and Brandon Bell of Roanoke are gone goodbye, and while hard core Republicans will celebrate this as a reassertion of the party's pre-Mark Warner-Tim Kaine era commitment to chopping spending and eschewing taxes, plenty of Democrats will also be cheered by these results. That's because Kaine and the Dems had already planned to make this fall's campaign--the entire Virginia legislature is up for election in November--about how the Republicans are supposedly so far to the right that the state needs to push the Senate over to the D side to provide safety and balance. These primary results will only strengthen the Dems' hand--not necessarily in those firmly Republican districts, but elsewhere around the state where the party split is closer.
In northern Virginia, three Republicans in deeply divided districts may find themselves in even greater trouble after these primaries. Ken Cuccinelli, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis and Jay O'Brien were all struggling to survive even before this vote. Now, their Democratic challengers will be able to make a stronger case that a Democratic takeover of the Senate is a real possibility.
Locally, perhaps the most fascinating race was that for Fairfax supervisor in the Providence district, the traditional kingmaker part of the county that produced county board chairman Gerry Connolly. Incumbent Linda Smyth narrowly fended off a challenge from political novice Charlie Hall (a former reporter and editor here at the Washington Post), who campaigned against the county's newfound zeal for "smart growth" development to increase density around Metro stations. Hall's campaign captured the frustrations of people in Vienna and other areas where residents resent the county government's approval of large new residential and mixed-use developments. The idea behind the developments is to curb sprawl by boosting density in areas with access to transit. But that's not very popular among many people who already live in those areas. Support for that smart growth concept has never been nearly as strong in much of Fairfax as in Arlington, Alexandria and Montgomery County. But Smyth's victory is a feather in Connolly's cap too, and an endorsement--though not a very strong one given the narrow margin--of the idea that Fairfax needs to move in the direction that those other suburbs have traveled in the past decade or so.
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