House Call: As Albo Goes, So Goes Virginia
Hello politicos, and welcome to our second installment of House Call! This week we're going to drill down into the Fightin' 42nd District in southeastern Fairfax County, because you know what they say: As Albo goes, so goes the commonwealth.
Actually, as far as I know, I'm the only one who said that. But I think it's a reasonable way to describe what should be the Democrats' easiest pick-up of the year. If Republican incumbent Dave Albo hangs on again this year in one of the state's two most Democratic-performing districts currently held by Republicans (the other is Tom Rust's 86th District in Herndon and Loudoun County), then Democrats have little hope of winning the six seats they need to take back the House of Delegates.
It's really hard to say what will happen. Albo, when he has a challenger, is always deemed vulnerable. And yet he has always scraped by in a district that by most accounts is pretty evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The district includes West Springfield, where Albo grew up, as well as Lorton and a chunk of Route 1.
Greg Werkheiser, a nonprofit executive, lost by fewer than 800 votes four years ago; the final tally was 52 percent to 48 percent for Albo. A question for many is whether Werkheiser gave up some momentum by not staging a rematch in 2007. (He's got kind of a good excuse, though: He was busy setting up a nonprofit to help poor people.)
Still, Werkheiser's most recent fundraising reports showed a substantial disadvantage in cash on hand. And much hay is being made (by Republicans) of the view that the recent Democrat-leaning performance of the district was fueled by antipathy to President Bush, who is now gone.
Werkheiser said his cash on hand doesn't reflect the fact that his campaign has been up and running since January, raising more than Albo this calendar year and already spending money on voter contacts. Werkheiser said he and his campaign crew have knocked on doors numbering in the low tens of thousands. He'll also get plenty of money and attention from the state party come fall. But so will Albo, so that might be a wash.
In the end, what decides this race is whether the 42nd has truly become a Democratic district. The 42nd is a weird place, including some of Fairfax County's most Republican precincts (Fountainhead) and also some of its most Democratic (Lorton Station). Four years ago, the district was measured as 46 percent Democratic, and Werkheiser outperformed that number. Today, is the performance index higher? And does that pull Werkheiser across the finish line?
Certainly, Werkheiser should not rely on the so-called "Obama surge" vote -- the first-time or occasional voters who turned out to vote in last year's historic election but cannot be counted on for regular participation. He said he doesn't need them. With almost exactly 50,000 registered voters in the 42nd District, the race isn't likely to attract more than 20,000 voters to the polls -- meaning that the first man to 11,000 wins. Finding that many Democrats in the 42nd is absolutely doable, Werkheiser said.
And Albo's got some weaknesses. He sponsored the infamous abusive driving fees in 2007. On the one hand he was trying to find road money for Northern Virginia; on the other, Virginians hated them, which is why the legislature repealed them quickly.
Albo, a trial lawyer, also has a 4-year-old son, Ben -- and he isn't shy about saying he'd rather be home with Ben and wife Rita than knocking on doors in sweltering August.
Finally, Albo is acutely aware of how much the district has changed -- one reason why he spends most of his time talking about transportation. He also seems to acknowledge the vulnerability of his party. He said this week that the district is basically 50-50, but he also said: "You have to be a Republican or a Democrat to get elected. But I've always just run on doing stuff for the neighborhood. I wasn't a young Republican. I was a civic association president, and a spot opened up, and I ran."
But if you're thinking that both candidates agree that the 42nd is Democratic, check this out: Werkheiser said he expects many voters to split their vote -- between him and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell. Go figure.
Meanwhile, in the category of miscellaneous, here's the House Democratic Caucus's most recent propaganda on the playing field out there. Republicans, send me your material and I'll slap it up here too.
And don't forget to send your tips and opinions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-383-5102.
Until next time.
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