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Virginia Notebook: Do Byrne, Feder Stand a Chance?

Tim Craig

After they won control of the state Senate last month, Virginia Democrats were confident about their potential for future success, even in Republican-leaning areas.

But it took only a month for reality to set in. In many parts of Virginia, voters continue to have strong affection for Republicans.

In last week's special election to fill the seat of the late US. Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va) in the 1st Congressional District, Republican Del. Robert J. Wittman (R-Westmoreland) won 61percent of the vote in his matchup against Democrat Philip Forgit.

The 1st District, which stretches from Tidewater to southern Prince William County, leans Republican, so a Wittman victory had been expected. Even so, he did better than most Republicans and Democrats had foreseen, given President Bush's low approval ratings.

Forgit drew support from liberal bloggers but failed to attract much help from national Democrats. In the end, he received 37.percent of the vote, faring worse among 1st District voters than Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) did against Bush in the 2004 presidential race.

Wittman's easy victory could spell trouble for Democrats, who are hoping to pick up one or two congressional seats in Northern Virginia next year.

In the 10th District, which stretches from Fairfax County to the upper Shenandoah Valley, Rep. Frank R. . Wolf (R) is girding for a potentially tough reelection battle.

In the 11th District, which includes parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, Democrats are eyeing the seat of Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R).

Davis has not announced whether he plans to seek reelection. Even if he does, Democrats say he will be vulnerable because Fairfax County has been trending Democratic.

But the results in the 1st District should force Democrats to think long and hard about their prospects.

The 10th and 11th districts are less Republican than the 1st, according to the partisan index in the Almanac of American Politics, but both were drawn by a GOP-controlled General Assembly and are favorable to Republicans.

A growing population has meant that more Democrats and independents have moved into both districts in recent years. But Republicans still have an overall advantage in both districts, according to the index.

In 2006, Davis and Wolf were easily reelected, even as their districts went for James Webb (D) over Republican George Allen in the U.S. Senate race.

A majority of residents in both districts also voted for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But Democratic candidates sense an opportunity next year because of recent success in those districts by Webb and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

In the 11th, former representative Rep. Leslie L. Byrne and Doug Denneny, former naval commander, are seeking the Democratic nomination. Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) is also looking at the race.

Byrne has early support from unions and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, but there are questions in Richmond and Washington about whether she can win a general election.

Byrne represented the 11th District in Congress from 1992 to 1994. But Davis won the seat for Republicans in 1994. He beat Byrne by 8 points that year, even as Democrat Charles S. Robb was trouncing Republican Oliver North in the district by 15 points in the Senate race that year.

Some Democrats also question whether Byrne, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2005, could hurt former governor Mark R. Warner's (D) Senate bid next year.

In 1996, Byrne challenged Warner for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. When she dropped out after it became clear that Warner would win the nomination, the Associated Press quoted her as saying: "To quote my favorite philosopher, Lily Tomlin, 'If you win a rat race, you're still a rat'?"

Could there be a more effective Republican campaign ad against Warner next year than one noting that a Northern Virginia Democratic congressional candidate once referred to him as a "rat?"?

In an interview, Byrne says she was referring to the state Democratic Party, not Warner. She argues that her message of change will resonate with voters, despite efforts to portray her as being too liberal on many issues.

"If you are interested in change, I don't think being too progressive is a bad thing," said Byrne, who is also a former state senator. "The status quo isn't working; people understand that. Whether I have been in Congress or the state legislature, I have been an agent of change."

In the 10th, Georgetown University professor Judy Feder, who lost to Wolf in 2006, is facing Mike Turner in the Democratic primary.

Feder is a heavy favorite to win the nomination. Unlike Byrne, who struggled to raise money during her run for lieutenant governor, Feder is a prolific fundraiser. In her unsuccessful race last year, she raised $1.6.million. The former Clinton administration official has out-raised Wolf so far this year.

"I know, from what I experienced last year, what it takes to win this race," Feder said. "I don't think anyone can top my background, my experience for commitment for change."

A big unknown is what effect, if any, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) would have on Feder's and Byrne's chances if she is the Democratic nominee for president.

Some strategists say that Clinton will help other female candidates because she will drive up turnout among women. Others question whether a Clinton candidacy would motivate large numbers of voters to come out against her, which could hurt other Democratic candidates.

Either way, Byrne and Feder have reasons to be optimistic about their chances if they are the nominees.

Byrne racked up a 16,000-vote margin in the 11th District in her losing bid for lieutenant governor in 2005. Feder is known as a tireless campaigner who impressed Democrats in Washington last year.

But both have embraced a curious strategy of reaching out to liberal bloggers who often attack Democrats they view as being too moderate, including Connolly.

If Democrats want to win next year, the party is going to have to be unified.

Liberal bloggers may have helped Webb win the Democratic nomination for Senate last year, but they have yet to prove they can help a Virginia candidate win a general election in a district in which a majority of voters are more used to voting Republican.

Just ask Forgit.

To get your fix of Virginia politics throughout the week, check out

By Tim Craig  |  December 19, 2007; 12:29 PM ET
Categories:  Election 2008/Congress , Election 2008/President , Election 2008/U.S. Senate , Frank R. Wolf , Leslie L. Byrne , Thomas M. Davis III , Tim Craig , Virginia Notebook  
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Next: McConnell's Imperial Send-Off


I've already Forgitten.

Posted by: Hector | December 19, 2007 1:14 PM | Report abuse

democrats need to learn the webb lesson - if all you want is to win, just get a pissed off republican to change parties

Posted by: Anonymous | December 19, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Both candidates are too liberal, even for Northern Virginia. Byrne, in addition, is an abrasive candidate. She may thrill the base, but others are turned-off by her.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 19, 2007 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Might I ask whether it matters that Jim Webb was drafted into the campaign in no small part by "liberal bloggers", who worked extremely hard for him? Evidently not, because the bar will be constantly redrawn, won't it. Webb was not to win the primary, in part because he was tainted by those nasty liberal bloggers. And, the same thing come the general election. Now, the challenge is that "liberal bloggers" haven't proven that "they" can win in a Republican district? Since when are the "bloggers" running?

Posted by: A Siegel | December 19, 2007 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Byrne is the living embodiment of the 'professional politician' which the majority of voters have come to hate. How many times must she lose before she comes out of denial and admits to herself that she's a loser.

If Gerry doesn't run and Tom does, Doug Denneny will be a far better candidate.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 19, 2007 6:22 PM | Report abuse

how about a draft davis campaign? you just need to get enough money together to buy him and he will switch parties like webb, if his wife had done that she would have won because she was more progressive than her democrat opponent

have davis run against himself and see which party gets more votes!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 19, 2007 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Boy, is this moronic:

"Liberal bloggers may have helped Webb win the Democratic nomination for Senate last year, but they have yet to prove they can help a Virginia candidate win a general election in a district in which a majority of voters are more used to voting Republican."

First of all, it wasn't just the Democratic nomination. It was a little thing called the "general election". Webb isn't a SENATOR for no reason, and last time I checked, Virginia is a state chock full of people in which a majority of voters are more used to voting Republican.

But don't take my word for it, Webb's:

"The netroots have been a tremendous help to my campaign and a huge inspiration to me personally.

"I am where I am in large part because of their support."

If your job is to misinform, then great job. This was pitch-perfect. But if you are actually interested in properly informing your readers, then you minimize the work that blogs like Raising Kane do at your own peril.

Posted by: kos | December 20, 2007 1:24 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Kos. I would also point out Jim Webb appeared on a blog talk radio show with Lowell and I to thank the netroots for their involvement on his behalf.

And I served as a general consultant to Senator-Elect Chap Petersen this year, whose victory was the largest by a Democratic challenger in legislative history. And our legislature is the oldest in America! We won by more votes than some candidates downstate RECEIVED overall (and they won!).

Tim Craig is just a sad pathetic reporter.

Posted by: Not Larry Sabato | December 20, 2007 1:54 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps Tim Craig should read my forthcoming book, "Netroots Rising: How a Citizen Army of Bloggers and Online Activists is Changing American Politics." (see to preorder)

Posted by: Lowell | December 20, 2007 7:00 AM | Report abuse

Ignoring the audacious disrespect for Democratic bloggers in electing Jim Webb to the United States Senate for the entire State of Virginia (including the Republicans, by the way!), there's an even bigger curiosity in this piece:

Why exactly should it be the job of Democratic bloggers to win Republican districts? The point of progressive blogging is to sway moderates, inspire the Democratic base, and hold the media accountable to the truth. Exactly what would it prove that Democratic bloggers can't win over Republicans--even if it were true?


Posted by: David Atkins | December 20, 2007 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Feder got as close as she potentially could last year...and still got crushed.
Feder is just far too extreme for the 10th. She could do great in Jim Moran's district but not the 10th.

Feder is part of the nutty left (borderline socialist) crowd in Democratic circles that gets crushed in general elections. (In the General Assembly see Jeanette Rishell, Bill Day and Bruce Roemelt) Come on now, no one who advocates for required socialized medicine and consistently talks about global warming and nothing else can win in the very moderate 10th. Feder speaks like she is talking to the residents of San Fransisco NOT Virginia.
Wolf seems like a likeable guy thats very bi-partisan in his workings while Feder appears to take her complete campaign message from the crowd. She will be hard-pressed to get 40% this year.

Posted by: 10thdistrictvoter | December 20, 2007 8:53 AM | Report abuse

For bloggers its all about ego

Posted by: Ego | December 20, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

For bloggers to be the helping hand that puts a Dem over the top, the district can't be an overwhelmingly Republican one, such as the fist district, where I live.

Blogs can create buzz but also need time to move the needle.

Posted by: Mimi Schaeffer | December 20, 2007 10:24 AM | Report abuse

If Ben served as "a general consultant to Senator-Elect Chap Petersen this year" why is he not listed on the VPAP report for Chap? Either he did it for free (which no GC does) or Chap didn't file correctly.

Posted by: VPAP | December 20, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Pathetic is the same thing most people think when they see the name Not Larry Sabato. There are some good respectable liberal blogs out there in VA such as Raising Kaine. Not Larry Sabato isn't one of them.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 20, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

If general consulting is done for free by someone who does do it for a fee elsewhere doesn't it have to be reported as in kind?

Posted by: Hector | December 20, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

"And I served as a general consultant to Senator-Elect Chap Petersen this year, whose victory was the largest by a Democratic challenger in legislative history."

Wasn't Tribbut the former campaign manager of Peterson's? Should this consultancy have been reported?

Posted by: NLS boasted? | December 20, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

looks like either ben is not telling the truth or he is inferring that joe and chap failed to report correctly? Is this something the washington post should investigate?

Posted by: Ben Tribbet Scandal? | December 20, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

sounds like a scandal to me

Posted by: a lawyer | December 20, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Ben has now thrown down the gauntlet this is going to be fun to watch

Posted by: it gets better | December 20, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I worked in a neighboring Senate District to where Ben/NLS was working. You would have to be either blind or a complete moron to not realize that Ben was working on Chap's race. So for those who think he's lying about this - you're just dead wrong.
As far as the reporting goes, if ya'll were paying closer attention, you'd notice that oftentimes consultants form their own companies/entities for tax purposes. And thus, those are what you'll see being reported on finance reports/VPAP, instead of individual names. Both parties do it and I know for a fact that the dems (Warner, Kaine, Dem Caucus, etc) all use mulitiple accounts through which they receive and flow money out of.
So for those of you thinking that Ben/NLS is involved in a major scandal - shame on you for not doing your homework.

Posted by: Meredith Q. | December 20, 2007 4:36 PM | Report abuse

A little heavy on (old) conventional wisdom, and a little light on understanding what's actually happening on the ground, Tim.

The "liberal blogger" community, is by and large, the same community that make up Democratic activists across the state. Well, not all of 'em, but a lot of them.

It's Democratic activists at the grassroots who have sparked most of the electoral change that has come--combined with good hard-working candidates and unrelenting demographic changes that continue to favor Democratic voting performances.

All the money in the world does not have a prayer against thousands of energized, buzzing Democratic activists who are already known commodities in their neighborhoods, who get out at election time, say "hello neighbor, could I talk to you for a minute about a terrific candidate that I'm supporting?", and work their tails off to deliver their voters to the polls on Election Day.

That had a lot more to do with Webb and several other Democratic wins recently, and the better than expected performance in several rural and very GOP-leaning legislative districts.

No Democrats ever expected us to win the 1st Congressional District because we don't have as large or as established grassroots network in most of that district as we do in the 10th & 11th.

The 10th & 11th, Mr. Craig, will be squarely in play in 2008, and if not won by then, will be in Democratic hands after the redistrictings of 2011 in which Democrats will have plenty of sway having a majority in the state senate.

And as long as Democrats continue to be competitive in Loudoun and Prince William, we are going to win statewide races for Democrats.

Posted by: Doug in Mount Vernon | December 20, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

that's what she said: "As far as the reporting goes, if ya'll were paying closer attention, you'd notice ...consultants ... being reported on finance reports/VPAP, instead of individual names."

so where is ben/nls's company listed on the campaign reports as a consultant?

or are you saying he is on the DPVA reports?

i hope you have the proof to clear this up, because doesn't it looks like ben/nls is in a campaign scandal?

or are you stating it is much larger?

isn't it time for ben/nls to respond and clear these allegations up?

Posted by: where's the beef , meredith? | December 20, 2007 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I'll be happy to respond. If you want to be a reporter, then dig into the reports and figure it out. I'm under no obligation to do the work for you. :-)

PS- It will be easier when the reports come out Jan 15th for the end of the year- but it is possible now.

Posted by: Not Larry Sabato | December 20, 2007 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Any Democratic blogger that thinks the 10th is in play is somewere in outer space.The DCCC is even going to ignore this race probably because they don't want to help Gilmore by throwing more money at Feder. The more that borderline socialist Judy Feder campaigns the fewer potential votes Mark Warner could get in the 10th. This could prove to be a real problem for the Dems and could potentially split the Democratic Party in NOVA. Warner is probably not going to want to be seen anywere near Mrs. Feder. Overall, Judy Feder is probably the worst thing going for the Democrats right now. Any candidate that takes their talking points straight from the extreme left extremists groups is not a good candidate in a moderate district.

Posted by: 10thvoter | December 20, 2007 6:03 PM | Report abuse

unless ben is duke advisors, shouldn't he be on every report including the most recent report posted on vpap? the jan 15 report is too late?

even if he is duke advisor, for all his time and expertise, shouldn't his amount be even higher than jca?

does the scandal widen?

Posted by: what is NLS hiding, meredith q? | December 20, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Man there are some sad pajama clad losers out there trolling VPAP looking for information on Ben Tribbett.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 21, 2007 1:29 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Craig, please continue to do your job and ignore hacks like Not Larry Sabato! Great report, but you left out all the really interesting / hypocritical / inconsistent statements Leslie Byrne has made in your own and some other notable newspapers:

Byrne is alleging violations of federal election law in at least 42 of the 134 caucus sites. She said the VA Dem Party "designed the caucus system to exclude her, but said she does not know if Warner himself is to blame." Byrne "complained that her supporters were given different ballots than those who voted for Warner." She also alleged that Warner delegates "tended the ballot box in some caucuses and blacks were quizzed about their choices in others." She said the battle "has left her so bitter that she cannot imagine again seeking public office" in VA ("Virginia: Warner Fiddles While Leslie Byrnes." The Hotline- 4/26/96)

She has hit Mark Warner as "Republican Lite" (Baker, W. POST, 12/21).

There's no specifics in his platform," Byrne said of Warner. "I've got a solid record on the issues. It's not lip service. It's something I've done over the last 10 years." "People feel they owe Mark," she said. "It's checkbook loyalty. Whether he wins or loses, they want him to write those checks again. I understand that. And I don't hold it against them." (Barker, Peter "Underdog Byrne Aims to Rise Again; Ex-Congress Member Touts Experience in Senate Bid." WAPO- B01 4/8/96)

But Ms. Byrne -- who is not known for grace in defeat -- is refusing to endorse Mark Warner. She is charging that his supporters effectively stole the election: that rules were twisted to prevent some of her delegates from voting in the caucuses, that supporters of Mark Warner were allowed to guard open ballot boxes and that some African-American delegates in Prince William County were grilled by a Warner supporter about whether they knew what they were signing when they filed for Ms. Byrne. (Editorial, W. Post 5/6/96

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a news release today headlined, "Mark Warner battles party division, ethics charges."
(Hsu, Spencer "Byrne's Continued Defiance Has Democrats Chafing, GOP Gloating." WAPO C01, 4/16/96)

ex-Rep. Leslie Byrne (D) accused Warner of "ducking debates and challenged him to three debates 'any time, any place, anywhere.' " Warner responded he would be "glad to debate Byrne and accused her of negative campaigning 'as usual.'" Byrne: "Mark Warner chose to miss yet another opportunity to discuss the issues with Virginians, after assurances he would be there." ("Virginia: Byrne Hits M. Warner Over Forum No-Show." The Hotline- 5/20/96)
12/20/2007 3:48:55 PM

Posted by: GuyFawkes | December 22, 2007 4:58 PM | Report abuse

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