McCartney: How Fairfax Democrats won
Northern Virginia Democrats proved this columnist wrong Tuesday, winning an important special election for a Senate seat in southwestern Fairfax after I predicted in early December that the GOP would retain the seat.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) relished teasing me about it in a phone interview Wednesday morning: "You want bearnaise sauce with that crow?" he asked.
In my defense, I was careful to hedge my prediction in the Dec. 3 column, saying only that "for now" I bet that Republican former school board member Steve Hunt would defeat Democratic Burke delegate Dave Marsden.
At the time, the Republicans were energized about their landslide victories in the November statewide elections, and liberal Democrats were lukewarm about Marsden, a moderate who used to be a Republican.
Marsden won narrowly, though, and Saslaw offered some explanations for how the Democrats turned it around.
First and foremost, he said, "A good campaign and a good candidate are a big plus." It was a not-so-veiled dig at Creigh Deeds, the Democrats' gubernatorial candidate in November, whose campaign was widely criticized.
Saslaw also pointed to a strong grassroots effort in the 37th district, and especially the importance of winning the absentee ballot count.
"We've been getting killed on that" in past elections, Saslaw said. This time, he said, whenever canvassers identified a potential Democratic voter who wasn't going to be home on Election Day, they made sure to encourage the voter to cast an absentee ballot. "We knocked on a zillion doors," Saslaw said.
On the issues, Saslaw said the Democrats stressed "the transportation mess" and the importance of having a strong Democratic presence in Richmond to battle Republican efforts to shift money from the state general fund to help pay for roads and other transportation projects.
"There's no way out of this with business as usual and taking money from the general fund," which could penalize education and public safety, Saslaw said.
The Democrats also rallied their partisans by calling attention to Hunt's social conservative record. He has decried homosexuality and criticized sex education.
Few were happier than Saslaw at the result, as it added an insurance seat to expand the Democrats' Senate majority to 22-to-18. "Going from 21 [seats] to 22 is huge," Saslaw said.
-- Robert McCartney
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