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Winners & Losers of 2009

Anita Kumar

Here at the Virginia Politics blog, we thought we would take one last look at 2009 before officially welcoming in the new year. And what a year it was in Virginia politics.

We had a nationally watched race for the state's top job, a sitting governor who became a national figure and a divided legislature that struggled with a multibillion budget shortfall.

Virginia became the first state in the nation to reject federal stimulus money for the unemployed and the last one to ask for federal stimulus money for transportation.

Democrats started the year out on top and ended the year in disarray. Republicans are on the cusp of a resurgence they could not have imagined 12 months ago.

We know Bob McDonnell had a tremendous year, and Creigh Deeds not so much. Ditto for their campaign managers, Phil Cox and Joe Abbey. Who else had a great or lousy year?

Read below for our picks (in no particular order) and on behalf of all of us have a happy new year. We'll return next week with more news, insights and analysis for you.

WINNERS:

Chris LaCivita
The veteran Republican operative continues his recent winning streak by managing conservative Ken Cuccinelli's drubbing of Democrat Steve Shannon in the race for attorney general. He's on the verge of another victory -- this one for Jeff McWaters, who easily beat a Republican in a primary to fill a Virginia Beach state senate seat and expects similar results against a Democrat in next week's general election. LaCivita has backed his share of losers (think George Allen in 2006) but has high hopes for his latest client, Robert Hurt, the best known of the slew of Republicans running against Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello in 2010.

Bob Holsworth
After enduring what could have been a career-ending scandal at Virginia Commonwealth University (following a police chief's inappropriately awarded bachelor's degree) Holsworth not only survives, he prospers. The former dean and professor hits the speaking circuit, moderates more than his share of candidate forums and remains the go-to guy for analysis on Virginia politics. His blog, Virginia Tomorrow became an insightful must-read that rose above the partisan din of the Internet.

Liberty University
The small Lynchburg-based college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell is widely credited with tipping the balance for Republican Scott Garrett in his race against Democratic Del. Shannon Valentine. It was the first time the school had staged massive voter registration and turnout drives for a local election. A few weeks later, Liberty learned one of its own will serve in McDonnell's Cabinet when alum Janet Polarek was tapped as the new secretary of the commonwealth.

Anthony Bedell
The chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee helped his county back a Republican gubernatorial candidate for the first time since 1997. A pair of Republican delegate candidates, Barbara Comstock and Jim LeMunyon, defeated Democratic incumbents in Fairfax, while Republicans held onto their existing seats there. Even before the November election, Bedell was mentioned as a possible candidate for state party chairman after area Republicans had outperformed expectations in a series of special elections. Bedell was honored by the state GOP at its retreat in Williamsburg last month.

Doug Wilder
The nation's first elected black governor returns to prominence -- or at least relevance. Though many Virginia politicos have grown tired of Wilder's "will he or won't he" endorsement antics, the governor-turned-professor proved everyone he was right by sitting out the governor's race last year despite even a plea from President Obama. His tumultuous tenure as Richmond mayor had started to fade when Wilder declined to endorse Deeds. It appeared to be a smart move later when Deeds' campaign turned out to have more than its share of problems. Wilder stopped short of endorsing McDonnell, but was sure to compliment him a time or two. McDonnell returned the favor by mentioning the former governor frequently on the campaign trail and talking up some of his ideas, including privatizing the state's liquor stores. The two men sat down for lunch at the Jefferson early last month. No doubt we'll be seeing more of Wilder in a McDonnell administration.

Bill Howell
It wasn't even a year ago that members of his own caucus were privately questioning his leadership, some saying they might even consider searching for a new House speaker. But Howell raised money, recruited candidates and rode a massive Republican wave that allowed him to pick up six seats in the House. He will return to Richmond this month stronger than ever with a massive 12-seat majority and a longtime friend in the governor's mansion.

George Washington
Move over Thomas Jefferson. The nation's first president made a comeback of sorts in 2009. His name hadn't been mentioned this much since his own presidential re-election bid. McDonnell grew up not far from Washington's home of Mount Vernon, which led to a lifelong admiration for the former general. Anyone who listened to McDonnell on the stump last year knows what we mean.

LOSERS:

Mo Elliethee
The longtime Democratic consultant had a tough year. He started out working on Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial campaign and Jody Wagner's lieutenant governor's campaign. He later onto Deeds' campaign as well as the state Democratic party and Gov. Tim Kaine's political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward. But let's face it. Virginia Democrats -- and that includes McAuliffe, Wagner, Deeds, Kaine and House candidates ---- did not have a great year -- and that's an understatement. It was a tough year to be a Virginia Democrat. Elliethee wasn't alone. Just ask Mike Henry.

The Fourth Estate
The capitol press corps has shrunk so much last year that many of the desks in the pressrooms on Capitol Square are now empty. Statehouse reporters have been reassigned, bought out, laid off. Only one TV station in Virginia still has a reporter at the state Capitol. Many newspapers have decided to cover the Capitol from afar or not at all. Newspapers and TV stations are also devoting far less space and time to statehouse news. The real losers here are not the media, but the public. Fewer issues are covered, and less time and space are devoted to those issues.

Phil Hamilton
It was a huge fall for one of the most powerful members of the House of Delegates, who lost his seat amid a federal investigation. Hamilton, who as a budget negotiator and vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was one of the few legislators who helped determine how billions in state money was spent, tried to get a job at Old Dominion University while securing money for the school. Most party leaders, including McDonnell, turned on him and asked him to step down before the election, but he refused. The 21-year legislative veteran from Newport News resigned after he lost to Democrat Robin Abbott. He was a rare Republican loser last year (though Jeff Frederick didn't have a great year either).

Labor unions
Labor unions poured millions of dollars and other resources into the campaigns of the Democrats seeking the state's three top jobs, particularly Deeds, but with no success. Unions have traditionally held limited influence in Virginia politics but labor leaders said they went all out last year for fear that Republicans would be less concerned with workplace safety, health benefits and competitive wages for low-income workers and might shut union labor out of state projects.

Virginia smokers
In a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation, Kaine and Howell joined forces to prohibit smoking in bars, marking a significant political and cultural shift for a state whose history has been intertwined with tobacco for centuries.

Dick Cranwell
The chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party decided to run for the post again last year to help Virginia avoid Republicans who "would move us back to the failed days of the Gilmore administration." But Cranwell was unable to stop his fellow Democrats from losing all three statewide seats and six seats in the House. After November's bruising election, Cranwell had to dispel rumors that he may resign or be forced out.

The Salahis
The most glamorous losers of all. The Virginia couple has been humiliated for crashing the Obama White House's first state dinner and subsequently exposed for their financial troubles and various other attention-seeking escapades. The state has launched an investigation and various politicians, including the outgoing and incoming governors, have grown tired of questions about their ties to the couple. It is not likely the Salahis will contribute wine or money to another Virginia politician, or score an invite to one or their parties again.

By Anita Kumar  |  January 1, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  2009 Attorney General's Race , 2009 Governor's Race , 2009 Lieutenant Governor's Race , 2010 Virginia Congressional Races , Anita Kumar , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Election 2010 , General Assembly 2010 , George F. Allen , House of Delegates , Jody Wagner , Ken Cuccinelli , Robert F. McDonnell , State Senate , Terry McAuliffe , Timothy M. Kaine , Tom Perriello , Winners and Losers  
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Comments

Here are more losers in Virginia politics: Anita Kumar and the Washington Post editorial board, whose fierce campaign against McDonnell went down in flames.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 1, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Fifth District Debates
North Garden, Virginia - 12/31/09 - Last night Robert Hurt, one of six candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Virginia's Fifth Congressional District, proposed a series of five debates sponsored by the Republican unit chairs of the Fifth District. These are the same unit chairs who colluded against the wishes of their members and voted for a primary over a convention. Robert Hurt was the only candidate of seven who supported a primary. It has been suggested that this was because a primary would give him the advantage due to name recognition and money.

The problem here is that a series of at least six debates has already been scheduled in the fifth district sponsored by the Tea Party committees, a number of the local Universities, and various Republican groups. These are debates that all of the candidates including Hurt have already agreed to attend. Why would Robert Hurt suggest five strictly Republican unit sponsored debates in addition to the six he knows have already been planned? Why would Hurt's representatives suddenly suggest that he might not be available for the other debates? Does he once again expect to gain an advantage by just attending friendly debates moderated by Pro-Hurt hosts?

Isn't this exactly what the Republicans railed about in the 2008 elections when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama refused to appear on Fox News or go to a debate sponsored by them? Now Hurt is adopting the same strategy. How can we expect Robert Hurt to be able to stand up to the power brokers and the Democrats in Washington on our behalf if he is afraid to be asked questions by grandmothers holding Gadsden flags? I say if Robert Hurt is not able to face up to the Tea Party Patriots because they might ask him some tough questions, then he is not our man to face up to Tom Perriello.

If the Republican unit chairs and Robert Hurt want to have special debates where they can control the questions, I will certainly make every effort to attend. I am calling on Robert Hurt and all of the Conservative Republicans running in the fifth district to keep the commitment that we all made to the Tea Party Patriots and the University Republicans and face the people of the Fifth District in open and honest debate. It is important to remember that a man is only as good as his word.

I am also calling on all of the Conservative Republicans to join with me in supporting a fifth district Conservative convention. We must choose a single Conservative Candidate to represent the Fifth District. On June 8th it is my goal to see a ballot on primary day with two candidate's names on it; a conservative constitutionalist and Robert Hurt. The voters of the fifth district deserve a real choice.

Posted by: McPaddenforCongressVA5 | January 1, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

kaine, virginia's biggest loser...

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