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Fairfax Republicans taking stock after state Senate loss

Fairfax County Republicans are licking their wounds and assessing the damage after Sen. David W. Marsden's upset victory over Stephen M. "Steve" Hunt in the January special election for the Virginia state Senate.

The southwestern Fairfax County district where Marsden won, the 37th state Senate District, had been represented by Republicans since 1992 and conservative Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinnelli II had been the district's senator for seven years. (Not quite a U.S. Senator-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) level upset. After all, the 37th has not been easy for Republicans to hold onto, even with Cuccinelli in the seat. But an upset nonetheless.)

Marsden's win was hailed by Democrats as a game-changer in a part of Northern Virginia that had voted for Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell in November. However, Republicans and some political experts view it differently. Anthony Bedell, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, said it came down to a few mistakes by GOP workers. And Toni-Michelle Travis, a political science professor at George Mason University who writes The Almanac of Virginia Politics, said that special elections, with their "terrible" turnouts and unpredictable outcomes, are not great indicators of larger political or demographic shifts.

In an e-mail this week to Fairfax County Republican Committee members, Bedell called Hunt, a former Fairfax County School Board member who lost to Marsden (D-Fairfax) by 324 votes out of more than 23,000 votes cast, a "true warrior who fought the good fight for the citizens of the 37th Senate District. But Hunt lost, Bedell said, for a number of reasons. Here's the full list from the e-mail:

-- Coordination: "When you have multiple external groups all involved in the same undertaking, everyone needs to work from the same page in order to be successful. This was obviously evident in the 2009 elections and our success proved it. However, for many reasons, this was not the case for the special election in the 37th."

This could be referring to the fact that during Hunt's intense seven-week campaign, in-kind workers from the state and county Republican organizations along with Hunt's own staff were involved. Too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to a mess, Bedell said.

-- Robo-calls: "The Hunt race taught us the limited value of robo-calls in getting out the vote in special elections. Despite having robo-calls from Governor McDonnell, Attorney General Cuccinelli and others, they had little impact on turnout in the race and even angered many voters."

Bedell said that voters will now see "limited or no use of robo-calls from GOTV" in the upcoming special elections for Fairfax County School Board and the 41st state House seat. One voter from the southwestern Fairfax district also told Virginia Politics he received an unsolicited robo-call from an anti-abortion group on Hunt's behalf. Those calls might have pushed away the very same core voters that both parties were hoping to bring out Jan. 12.

-- FCRC Role: "The best role for the FCRC in all elections is as coordinator. We did this well in 2009 and we will get back to it in 2010."

Ouch. Bedell highlighted the county party's absentee voting efforts in 2009, a not-too-subtle jab at the lackluster get-out-the-vote campaign employed by Hunt staffers. Remember, Hunt lost in the absentee count by 405 votes and Marsden won the election by just 324 votes.

Bedell goes on to emphasize that Republicans need to employ a countywide effort for the two special elections and work on infusing money into the party's depleted coffers.

In the 41st district, Kerry D. Bolognese, a higher education lobbyist from Springfield who lost to Marsden in the House in November, will be running again.

Bolognese will face Democrat Eileen Filler-Corn, a lobbyist from Burke who unsuccessfully ran for the 41st seat in 1999 against former delegate James H. Dillard II (R). She served under Democratic former governors Timothy M. Kaine and Mark Warner.

The 41st special election is set for March 2. The Fairfax County School Board special election to fill vacant seat of Del. Kaye Kory (D-Mason) has not yet been scheduled.

The county party's convention is March 27 and the nominating primary for the 8th, 10th and 11th congressional districts is June 8.

By Derek Kravitz  |  January 25, 2010; 12:14 PM ET
Categories:  Derek Kravitz , Fairfax County , State Senate  
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"Marsden's win was hailed by Democrats as a game-changer in a part of Northern Virginia that had voted for Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell in November."

Game-changer??? BWAHAHAHAHA!!! Are you f'ing serious? Boy, Democrats sure are getting desperate for signs of good news. Maybe they can pick up a PTA seat too or maybe an HOA board seat or two!!


Posted by: savethepcbs | January 25, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, "game changer" is silly.

Hunt ran an issue-less campaign like McCain, Earley and Kilgore did rather than McDonnell or Scott Brown who voters could easily identify with a signature set of issues. Meanwhile, Marsden ran as a faux conservative concerned with spending.

Posted by: JTR555 | January 25, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Marsden essentially ran as a Republican moderate. His major ad depicted himself as a budget hawk and fiscal conservative, while portraying Hunt as a spend-thrift. If nobody knew which candidate was representing which party, one would've though Marsden was the Republican and Hunt the Democrat. Regardless of how true the ad was, I have little doubt it was highly effective in an environment where lots of voters have real concerns about the size of government at every level.

It also needs to be pointed out that Hunt was the candidate of many of the NoVa conservative activists. From the minute he won the Republican runoff, I really wondered whether Hunt would embody the values of the voters of the 37th district as well as he embodied the views of strongly opinionated activists. We found out. This was a seriously missed opportunity for Republicans, and they really only have themselves to blame.

Posted by: mbcnewspaper | January 25, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

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