Low Turnout Yesterday Says Little About November
Democrat Gerald E. Connolly of Fairfax County, the top elected official of the region's largest jurisdiction, won a decisive primary victory yesterday in Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District against former representative Leslie L. Byrne.
But with less than 6 percent of registered voters participating in the election, the results don't say a whole lot about what could happen come November.
Connolly beat Byrne with nearly 58 percent of the vote to her 33 percent. In raw numbers, however, he won by just over 6,000 votes -- little more than 1 percent of the 11th Congressional District's 446,000 active registered voters.
Yesterday's dismal turnout was evident across the region, where four other congressional primaries were held. Turnout in the 8th District Democratic primary, where Rep. James P. Moran Jr. defeated Matthew T. Famiglietti with 87 percent of the vote, was just 3.4 percent. In the 10th District Democratic primary, where Judy M. Feder defeated Mike R. Turner with 62 percent of the vote, turnout was 1.9 percent. In the 11th, overall turnout was actually higher, at 5.5 percent.
Elections officials attributed the low voter participation to a variety of factors, including the drawn-out presidential primary, and the fact that congressional primaries in Virginia typically draw few voters.
The election was "completely under the radar," Fairfax General Registrar Rokey Suleman said yesterday. "I don't think a lot of people even knew it was happening."
Keith S. Fimian, the Republican nominee in the 11th District who will face Connolly in the fall campaign, speculated that the low turnout was actually a sign that voters are not energized by Connolly's candidacy, and that they are ready for change.
But the fact that Connolly drew more than 100,000 voters to the polls last November, when he won reelection as Fairfax County board chairman, suggests otherwise. So does the fact that Virginians turned out in record numbers for the presidential primaries in February. With a potentially competitive presidential contest in Virginia between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain -- and a U.S. Senate race between Democrat Mark R. Warner and Republican Jim Gilmore -- elections officials are predicting strong turnout this fall.
Fimian owns a home-inspection business, has the backing of retiring Rep. Tom Davis (whose seat is the one in question) and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. He will run a spirited campaign against Connolly, he said, because he believes the 11th remains in play for Republicans despite recent statewide elections in which the district has chosen Democrats.
Certainly some of the low turnout numbers from yesterday suggest that a Republican base remains strong in the 11th. Voter participation in the Democratic primary was particularly low in Prince William County and in the Mount Vernon and Sully districts of Fairfax -- all traditional Republican strongholds that have come out heavily for Davis in the past. If Fimian is to win in November, he must perform exceptionally well in those areas. Yesterday's anemic numbers there suggest that many voters who stayed home are Republican who might well participate in November on his behalf.
June 11, 2008; 12:58 PM ET
Categories: Amy Gardner , Amy Gardner , Election 2008/Congress , Election 2008/President , Election 2008/U.S. Senate , Gerald E. Connolly , James Gilmore III , Leslie L. Byrne , Mark Warner , Prince William , Thomas M. Davis III
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