10 Questions For Election Night
As you watch the returns roll in Tuesday evening, here are ten questions that the results will, perhaps, answer:
1. Is the hard-core appeal to social conservatives no longer a path to victory for Virginia's Republican party?
If Obama carries the state, does that mean that moderate Republicans who have been pushed out of office and out of the mainstream of the party in recent years will have a case for grabbing hold of their party and steering it back toward the center? Or will social conservatives be emboldened to press their cause more boldly, arguing that Republicans lose only when they fail to stick to moral and political principles?
If McCain prevails but Senate candidate Jim Gilmore goes down to a big defeat, how does that inform the continuing civil war within the Virginia GOP? Is there a path back toward relevance for Republicans in northern Virginia and other urban and affluent areas?
2. Is it just party and personality that made the difference for slots in Maryland?
Gov. Bob Ehrlich pushed for slots and Martin O'Malley said they were "morally bankrupt" and a "gambling gimmick." Then O'Malley won Ehrlich's job.
Now it's Gov. O'Malley who pushes for slots and Ehrlich who says the new governor's plan is "bad policy."
Hey, we've got the makings of a controlled experiment here! After having voted for the anti-slots candidate for governor, what will Marylanders say now? Will they follow what their governor said or what he did? Is the slots choice just a matter of siding with your political team, or is there some other lesson to be drawn from the legalizing of slots gambling, assuming that's what happens?
3. Will Rep. Frank Wolf become the last Republican to represent any part of Maryland or Virginia inside the Beltway?
With Gerry Connolly poised to turn Rep. Tom Davis's Fairfax County seat from red to blue, that would leave Wolf as the only Republican whose district includes any turf inside the Capital Beltway. It wasn't that long ago that in addition to Davis, Connie Morella held the Montgomery County seat now occupied by Chris Van Hollen.
Will tonight's returns show that Wolf hangs on mainly because his district has been drawn to include several rural counties west of northern Virginia proper? And if so, what's likely to happen to the 10th District after the 2010 Census and the redistricting that follows? The next couple of Virginia legislative elections will become more crucial than ever as the parties jockey for the power to redraw those congressional maps.
4. Was it his party affiliation or his political positions that kept Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in office for so long in Maryland's 1st District (Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County)?
If Republican Andy Harris, who knocked Gilchrest out in the primary this year, prevails over Democrat Frank Kratovil, that will not only tell us that the Obama juggernaut in Maryland is less than ubiquitous, but also that party loyalty has not lost all of its power in that part of the state. Gilchrest endorsed the Democrat not only because he's bitter and frustrated that his own party rejected him, but because his views on many key issues really align more with Kratovil's than with Harris's. Maryland's Republican party is hurting, but in the state's rural areas, there's still a strong sense that only the GOP represents prevailing local values.
Of course, if Kratovil wins, that sends a very different message, and a GOP that has nearly given up on winning statewide offices will have to think about tacking toward the center or coming up with a very different approach than that of Bob Ehrlich and the dwindling Republican caucus in Annapolis.
5. Will the D.C. Council, deeply frustrated by Mayor Adrian Fenty's end runs around them on issue after issue, embark on a more confrontational or obstructionist path over the next two years?
If Michael Brown wins the at-large council contest, will that embolden chairman Vincent Gray and council members such as Marion Barry (Ward 8), Harry Thomas (Ward 5), Phil Mendelson (At Large), and David Catania (At Large) to take a stronger, elbows-out approach in their battles to get the mayor to be more open, cooperative and even deferential to the council?
If Carol Schwartz's write-in campaign to save her seat succeeds, on the other hand, will the council continue to temper its criticism of the mayor with regular reminders to themselves that Fenty won every precinct in the city and continues to enjoy broad popularity?
6. How close can Mark Warner come to sweeping every county and city in Virginia, and if he does win that remarkable support, what does that mean for next year's race for governor?
Mark Warner is so far ahead in polling in his race to succeed John Warner in the U.S. Senate that some of his giant stockpile of campaign cash has been deployed lately in an effort to see if the former governor might achieve the unthinkable--winning in every county and city in the commonwealth. It's of course extremely unlikely that he'll pull it off, even against a weak opponent such as Jim Gilmore (at her stops in Virginia last week, Sarah Palin didn't even bother to mention Gilmore to the crowds--a rare breach of protocol bordering on outright insult). But would a huge Warner victory reflect only his personal success in portraying himself as a centrist whose business focus and practical manner transcend party, or would it give Democrats a real leg up on next year's governor's race?
The Democratic field in that contest is not strong--Alexandria Del. Brian Moran is largely unknown in much of the state outside of northern Virginia, state Sen. Creigh Deeds from Charlottesville is similarly unknown in the Washington suburbs, and former Clinton party chief Terry McAuliffe has all the money-raising potential as well as lots of potential to be perceived as an outsider who's trying to pull a Hillary Clinton by running in a state where he has had zero political role prior to this run for the top office. But the presumptive Republican candidate, attorney general Bob McDonnell, is a hard-right conservative whose ties to Rev. Pat Robertson won't play well in northern Virginia.
7. Who will do better against Barack Obama in rural Virginia, Hillary Clinton or John McCain?
Although Obama won the Virginia Democratic primary by 64 percent to Clinton's 35 percent, she trounced him in the state's rural southwest, where many white voters far preferred her populist pitch and were often openly skeptical or antagonistic toward the idea of a black president. In some small rural counties, Clinton won well more than 70 percent of the vote, even hitting 86 percent in Lee County, the state's westernmost county.
Have Obama's repeat visits to the region, along with the Mark Warner strategy of talking up economic development and green jobs, made enough of a difference to improve his showing or will McCain similarly dominate in that part of the state?
8. Will voters in the northwest Washington neighborhood where Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Frank Winstead crusades against sidewalk ping-pong tables, benches and double-parked delivery trucks rise up and take a stand for street life?
This is one question we certainly won't get an answer to right away tonight. The District tends not to count the ANC votes for a couple of days; there are just too many micro-districts to make it feasible to produce results that quickly. But it will be an interesting referendum on the value of street amenities to residents in city neighborhoods that sometimes seem torn between urban location and suburban desires. It will also be a test of whether voters in a huge-turnout presidential year care at all about the District's long-running experiment in micro-democracy.
9. Will Loudoun County voters agree to make restaurant meals and prepared foods in supermarkets as much as four percent more expensive to fund the building of more schools?
Aside from a few bond issues in Fairfax, Prince George's and a few other spots around the area, this is the biggest test we'll see this election cycle of just how much the downturn in the economy is altering attitudes towards taxes and government spending. In generally tax-allergic Loudoun County, where the booming population means that they build new schools about as often as the District of Columbia hands out parking tickets, the wave of foreclosures and the frightening drop in home values has dramatically slowed the pace of growth. But growth hasn't entirely stopped, and there's no question that the county will continue to expand powerfully over the next decade.
With ever more school-age children in this young community, the demand for new schools seems unstoppable. Will the prospect of paying for some of those schools by taxing out-of-town travelers at Dulles airport be enough to lure cautious voters into a $13 million a year tax hike? Will the fact that the county expects a $176 million budget gap next year push voters to embrace this tax in the hopes of holding off any bump in property taxes? Or will folks choose to keep restaurant meals as affordable as possible? Will the choice at the top of the ballot, where the presidential candidates have spent an oddly huge portion of their time and rhetoric on tax issues, alter the decision of Loudoun voters on this tax decision at the bottom of the ballot?
10. Finally, a question we can answer right now: Who are you really voting for when you vote for Barack Obama or John McCain?
Why, electors, of course. And who are these constitutionally-mandated, virtually anonymous souls who actually get to elect the president? Who are these people you are voting for on Election Day even if their names don't appear on the ballot?
Here they are: First, Virginia. In Virginia, on the Democratic side, they're artists, teachers, politicians, retirees. People such as Janet Carver of Springfield, a retiree and Democratic activist, and Rollie Winter of Leesburg, a retired information technologist, and Marian Van Landingham of Alexandria, a retired state legislator who founded the Torpedo Factory Arts Center.
On the Republican side, the Virginia electors include Bobbie Kilberg of McLean, who runs the Northern Virginia Technology Council; R. Christian Hoff of Arlington, who lost a race for Virginia state House and works in the defense industry; and William Wickham Hanks of Fairfax, a longtime Republican activist and leader of the Fairfax Federation of Citizens Associations.
In Maryland, the elector candidates--10 from each party--include state legislators, labor leaders, and some prominent names. The Democratic list includes Bobby Fouche, a labor leader from Washington County; state delegates Susan Lee from Montgomery County and Liz Bobo from Howard County; and state Sen. Nathaniel Exum of Prince George's County, who is under investigation by the FBI, which is probing his advocacy on behalf of a Prince George's automobile repair shop that sought to resume state car inspections four years after its license to do so was revoked because of fraudulent practices.
On the Republican side, electors include Rachael Gingrich, who has held leadership posts with both the Montgomery County and statewide Young Republicans groups (she's apparently not related to Newt), Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor; Donald Murphy of Catonsville, a lobbyist who chaired McCain's 2000 campaign in Maryland; and Marcia Jicka, the state party's business manager.
In the District, Republican Party spokesman Paul Craney says the elector candidates are party chairman Robert Kabel, national committeeman Tony Parker and national committeewoman Betsy Werronen. On the Democratic side, the three electors are names that will be familiar to those who've followed D.C. politics for many years: D.C. Council chairman Vincent Gray, Jerry Cooper, and Marilyn Tyler Brown, a longtime schools administrator under several superintendents in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Brown was on the Hillary Clinton steering committee in the District. Cooper, a longtime political activist and campaign strategist in the city, is the man who brought the lottery to the District three decades ago.
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