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McAuliffe Wins Fairfax Straw Poll

Amy Gardner

Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe overwhelmingly won an informal straw poll in Fairfax County tonight against his two Democratic rivals for governor, Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds.

At a jam-packed St. Patrick's Day party hosted by U.S. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), McAuliffe earned 58 percent of votes, Moran took 30 percent and Deeds earned 12 percent. Connolly told the crowd of about 1,400 that a total of 934 ballots were cast.

If nothing else, the vote sprinkled a healthy pinch of fish food into Virginia's political aquarium. McAuliffe outshined his rivals in both organization and spirit at the event, arranging for donors to purchase 400 tickets for his guests, staffing the party with 60 paid campaign workers and prompting the loudest cheers when he spoke to the crowd.

Guests supporting the other candidates grumbled that McAuliffe's campaign had bought the straw poll; they also noted the number of Maryland and District license plates in the banquet hall's overflowing parking lot.

McAuliffe spokeswoman Elisabeth Smith countered that campaign records could document that more than 95 percent of those invited by McAuliffe were residents of Northern Virginia. She also noted that some campaign staffers have out-of-state plates but didn't vote in the straw poll.

"We're thrilled with the turnout that we saw from our grassroots volunteers," Smith said. "It's going to be critical in November that we have a strong grassroots organization."

Connolly said the financial benefit to his campaign coffers would be marginal given the low ticket price ($40) and high cost of the party. He also said that all three candidates worked hard to draw out supporters, and that McAuliffe won not merely because of money but also organization.

Connolly noted that straw poll results at his annual St. Patrick's Day event have predicted several high profile primary contests in recent years, including U.S. Sen. Jim Webb's defeat of Harris Miller in 2006 and Leslie Byrne's victory over Chap Petersen in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 2005.

"The purpose of this is to drive members of the Democratic family together and to generate early interest in the primary," Connolly said. "Clearly we did that."

Connolly's poll also asked guests to vote for one of four candidates for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, and the results were as follows: 48 percent for Jody Wagner, 28 percent for Michael Signer, 12 percent for Pat Edmonson and 12 percent for Jon Bowerbank.

By Amy Gardner  |  March 17, 2009; 9:50 PM ET
Categories:  Amy Gardner  
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I would have no doubt that "95 percent of those invited by McAuliffe" live in Virginia. It's the number that showed up that I question, based on the large number of out of state plates in the parking lot.

"Bought and Paid For" is a recurring theme in McAuliffe's campaign.

Posted by: ToddMSmyth | March 17, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

I was there and I think Moran's cheerers where equally as vocal. where were you standing? Surrounded by paid for McAuliffe fans.

Posted by: stuckintheeast | March 17, 2009 11:30 PM | Report abuse

I am truly embarrassed by the Ross Perot like tactics that were pulled last night at the Straw Poll.
The citizens of VA are smarter than this and can see through this persons desire to become a "spoiler" just like Ross Perot!

Posted by: Finnegan1 | March 18, 2009 7:10 AM | Report abuse

It's unbelievable [or is it?] that Moran & Co. keep up the negativity. If anything, they are making this look like a circus. I have not heard this much negativity about democratic participation since McCain and other Republicans belittled President Obama's grassroots efforts. Did Moran supporters side with McCain in the general election???

I also find it funny [re: license plates] that they now are huge proponents of xenophobia. Don't they recognize the national attention to this race? Apparently not.

It's a great time to be a McAuliffe supporter! I'd rather have a winner than a whiner.

Posted by: robsmithiii | March 18, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

I was also there with a dozen folks and ran into 4 of my friends wearing the McAullife stickers. They admitted to have their tickets purchased by McAullife.

McAullife was also hanging around the straw poll line most of the evening and I noticed that he would clearly "eye" the candidate stickers.

You should all note that all the Virginia Delegates on stage were wearing Brian Moran stickers. None for McAullife.

I'm not for any of the candidates yet but hope that the Dems don't divide the party and let McDonnell win.

Posted by: anonymous881 | March 18, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Anonymous - that's not true. Del. Kenneth Plum was wearing a McAuliffe sticker - as well as one or two more.

This straw poll does reflect organization and the desire for supporters to come out. I commend the McAuliffe campaign for organizing well and making it happen.

Moran supporters are like their candidate - they whine and make excuses when the chips don't go their way. We could see this one coming from a mile away. Moran didn't even stick around until the end of the event. I guess after getting whipped like that so close to home would send me home too. Maybe his brother Jim can cut him another $50,000 check and make things better.

Posted by: UVANick | March 18, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

The straw poll made me proud to be a Northern Virginia Democrat. A secret ballot is the snapshot of what is really going on beyond the alleged party leaders because it is the only way avoid the inevitable Moran strongarming and general over-personalization of the process. And how about celebrating the fact that McAuliffe is keeping those young and enthusiastic Obama supporters in the fold? Maybe they needed a ticket to get them to their first event of this type. I, for one, am glad he reached out to them and hope they stick around.

Posted by: ArlingtonDem | March 18, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

It's funny to me how all Moran supporters are brushed in the same by overzealous McAuliffe supporters online who claim to positive but in fact are anything but...

Look, this was a straw poll that tested organization and financial might, both of which Terry obviously has an advantage. I also saw cars from Maine, New Jersey, and Tennessee in the Kena lot all heading back to DC on Route 50 afterward....that's OK, it's a straw poll, and they all had their tickets paid for free food & beer--why wouldn't they have come? I would have.

But the real poll that will matter in June will not have the non-Virginians included. It will be grassroots people in the party who are out there educating their neighbors and friends and family about their candidate and why they support them, and in that race, Brian Moran is alive and well.

I will be very surprised if Virginia primary voters don't recognize the authentic nature of Brian Moran's call to public service, as he stated last night, "politics is not about the politicians, it's about the people we're fighting for".....EXCELLENT.

People that vote in primaries know who Terry McAuliffe is, and most Virginians who understand why these candidates are in this race are going to choose an authentic public servant over someone who appears to be an oppotunsitic every time (note that I said APPEARS TO BE).

These are all able and good men. Only one has the right background and progressively moderate stake on the issues to both win and keep Virginia moving in the best direction.

I hope you McAuliffe supporters understand that the grassroots in Virginia primaries are not often swayed by the most money and raw displays of power & influence, but by who they believe will do the best job governing.

In my mind, and most other Fairfax County Democrats I know (not all but most) Brian Moran is that person.

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 18, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

McAuliffe footed the bill for 400 attendees and had 60 campaign staffers work the party.

934 straw ballots cast

McAuliffe - 542
Moran - 280
Deeds - 112

542 - 460 = 82.

Ms. Gardner, please improve your reporting.[UPDATED]

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | March 18, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

One other note: in 2008, the Clinton campaign purchased about 90 tickets to the Mount Vernon Democratic Committee's annual Mardi Gras straw poll in February 2008 and brought TONS of their campaign staffers over from DC and other campaign volunteers from DC & MD. They won the straw poll something like 105-85, but shortly thereafter when the REAL VOTERS got their say, Barack Obama overwhelmingly won the Mount Vernon District on the order of 65-35%.

Be careful, McAuliffe supporters!

And the MVDDC Mardi Gras Straw Poll this year? Brian Moran 83, Creigh Deeds 43, Terry McAuliffe 30 (or somewhere in the 30's)! That reflected actual grassroots a little better as there weren't very many out-of-area folk....

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 18, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and ArlingtonDem---careful, lots of us "young and enthusiastic" Obama people are for candidates other than Terry McAuliffe.

All in all, the entire race and the energy and enthusiasm it's generating are EXCELLENT for the entire party, particularly as we try to ensure picking up 6 seats in the House of Delegates...

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 18, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

And it is noteworthy that Brian Moran received 280 votes from people who WILLINGLY went and spent their own money--he did not run a ticket purchase campaign for this event.

If you counted only the votes from people who paid there on way, clearly Moran actually won that tally by a 2-1-1 margin over the other two candidates....

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 18, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

ugh..."there on" = their own

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 18, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse


Re: "appears to be", how can you validate an assessment that Terry McAuliffe will do nothing if he gets into the mansion here in Richmond? Where is your proof? In his business ventures? They've all been successful and he has a wide portfolio of contacts that can be utilized for investment opportunities [i.e. creating jobs] -- that's how business and politics work together. In his fundraising? He's successfully raised hundreds of millions! In his viability of enhancing the Democratic party? He's incredibly energetic and Young Dems are piling on board to engage in grassroots. How is any of what he does bad? The assumption that he will do nothing is just a loyalist jab created by the Moran folks at the beginning of the campaign [in fact, before even Terry formally announced!]. The only reason that he appears to be opportunistic is this crazy invention/catch-phrase-to-be of "you can't run for office unless you're in office". The consequence of running anyway? You're an "opportunist". I don't buy the logic. If it matters so much who can run and who shouldn't, why aren't individuals like you pushing for referendums legally banning various types of citizens from running for office? Aren't shallow "opportunists" dangerous for the health of our state and country?

These non-Virginians that some people are fearing may not be able to vote in the primary but they have a purpose: organization and grassroots activity! They come to the state because they know Virginia is in the spotlight and it's a heck of an opportunity. They will help tremendously in getting folks out to vote not only in the primaries but also in November. I welcome that; in fact, it makes me all the more proud of our Commonwealth.

I hope everyone in our Party realizes that tearing apart Party unity by complaining about things that are allowed will not win the election against McDonnell, which I am sure, deep down, is our collective bottom line. The issues alone do not guarantee a victory against a Republican; the fight that you have to bring to the table from the ground, as demonstrated by President Obama, ends up winning the day.

Posted by: robertjsmithiii | March 18, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Regarding out of state plates, I guess most of you have never run across any military family members who are Virginia voters but whose vehicles may have the state registration of the home of record of the active duty military member. Come to Hampton Roads if you don't know about that. The constant negativity from the Moran campaign as originally displayed at this year's Jefferson Jackson Dinner does the candidate a great disservice, but as it continues unabated, I guess that Mr. Moran approves of it.

Posted by: rutgerscn | March 18, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

And yes Doug... us young Obama supporters/ young Dems ARE supporting McAuliffe. And by Young Dems I mean the 18-35 age range, as defined by the Virginia YDs.

And please don't try to make it appear as if the Moran camp isn't the most negative campaign to run in VA in a long time. It is evident through the sour grapes posts, messaging, and outright hostility demonstrated by his supporters on blogs and public events.

Posted by: UVANick | March 18, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

The Moran campaign reaction to the straw poll outcome was predictable. For the past few months, the anger and lashing out at McAuliffe has escalated and become down right mean-spirited. Though I was an early Moran supporter, I very much liked the candidate I saw in Terry McAuliffe and the message he brings to the voters. Moran is losing supporters and votes left and right with his blatant and transparent agenda. He needs to get positive and rein his supporters in as well.

Posted by: Claire5 | March 18, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

here's my prediction. crazy as it sounds, this could be possible. McAuliffe and Moran split the NOVA vote, Deeds wins primary as a darkhorse.

McDonnell beats Deeds. GOP governor then screws up VA, people return to Maryland and other places to live. the end.

Posted by: anonymous881 | March 18, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse

I was disappointed that there wasn't more attention given to the Lt. Gov. straw poll and its interesting results. Bowerbank announced very early and has already poured a ton of money into his race - yet Mike Signer, the last candidate to get in the game, beat him by more than double. Lots of NoVA party people committed to Jody Wagner early on, but I'll bet that Signer's strong message and obvious support is making them re-think.

Posted by: NewDeminVA | March 19, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Well, there's only one side that appears to be posting "sour grapes" messages, which is odd given that your side won!

I NEVER said there was anything BAD about McAuliffe! You need to stop putting words in my mouth. I said that he appears to be in this race for different reasons than Brian Moran, to me.

That's my right and my choice and unless I see something to impression me otherwise from Terry himself, I doubt that will change.

I LIKE what Terry's presence in this race is doing! It's elevating all three candidates and bringing lots and lots of needed attention to this race, and not Bob McDonnell.

UVANick, are you calling me old? Ok, I am 40 now, but I was among the NoVA YDs when there was no such organization, but thanks for the intonation ascribing me elderly status! LOL... You YDs in this area are doing good work nowadays! Whippersnappers!

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 19, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

What part of "these are all able and good men" didn't you understand? Please tell me what I have said or done that "tears apart Party unity"....blogs are so reactionary and hypersensitive it's ridiculous. People need to learn how to read them, really.

Again, I think Terry McAuliffe is a great candidate and a good guy. I don't trust him to be in the race for the right reasons, and that's my right and my opinion. Yours differs. Get over it, this Party is not "The Borg".

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 19, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse


Your inclusion and insistence of "opportunistic" [read: opportunist] warranted a response and the follow-up was just for being thorough on your insistence that a successful election hinges on a collective faith of the voters (which it does) and not on money (which it also does; Virginia has never seen this level of input before and I think it's terribly important to have maximum input against someone as popular as McDonnell [and who knows why that is!]). If I can't be thorough in responding to something like "It's funny to me how all Moran supporters are brushed in the same by overzealous McAuliffe supporters online who claim to positive but in fact are anything but...", then how can I hope to defend any position that I take? I'm a very positive guy; I have to slam on the breaks for Moran, though, especially when I had to get up and leave his speech at the JJ Dinner because every other line was a negative diatribe against Terry. I went to the Hanover Democratic Committee breakfast a few weekends ago and Moran's speech had very little things that brought out his policy ideas that would differentiate him; instead, he relentlessly said "well, I'm not like Terry" in a number of different ways. Watching a campaign take shape is one thing; watching a campaign be founded on negative connotations from one party member toward another does not effectively build the type of party energy needed to overcome a fierce Republican opponent such as McDonnell.

I think that my points are relevant, as I think your points are, too, because they raise good questions that ought to be analyzed rigorously during races like these. I don't have sour grapes; I would just like to hear facts differentiating what Brian will do for the party versus what Terry will do for the party. Both will have different styles, I'd just like to hear your take on the question.

Posted by: robsmithiii | March 20, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

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