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Five questions from Virginia's 2010 election results

Ben Pershing

It's all (almost) over but the shouting in Virginia, which played host to four competitive congressional contests this cycle and a few more that were worth watching. Now that we've had all of 36 hours to digest the numbers, here are five interesting questions that emerged from the results:

1) What if Pat Herrity had won? Of all the Northern Virginians waiting to hear the final vote count in the 11th congressional district -- Rep. Gerald Connolly (D) currently leads Oakton businessman Keith Fimian (R) by 925 votes -- none likely feels quite the same mixed emotions as Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity.

Back in June, you'll remember, Fimian beat Herrity by a convincing 12-point margin to secure the GOP nomination against Connolly for the second cycle in a row. Herrity seemed to have run a lackluster campaign, as his fundraising never took off and he constantly played defense against Fimian's charges that he wasn't conservative enough.

At the time, national Republicans privately suggested that if Herrity couldn't beat Fimian in the primary, he probably couldn't beat Connolly, a seasoned campaigner, in the general election. But after Tuesday's squeaker of a race, it's worth wondering whether Herrity could have gotten just 1,000 more votes than Fimian. Connolly's primary attacks against Fimian were that a) he had no record of civic engagement, which wouldn't have worked against Herrity; and b) that Fimian was too conservative on social Issues for the moderate 11th district. That charge may or may not have worked against Herrity, who also opposed abortion but has never been as outspoken as Fimian on that or other social issues.

Herrity also had something more of a base in Fairfax County, where his father, Jack Herrity, held office for many years. (Herrity did underperform in the county during the primary.) Fimian managed to take 47 percent of the vote there Tuesday, so how well might Herrity have done?

On the other hand, Fimian almost certainly did better in Prince William County than Herrity would have, and maybe Fimian did so well in this outsiders' year precisely because he was a conservative political novice. Maybe a more conventional elected official like Herrity would have been unable to draw a sufficient contrast with Connolly. We'll never know. But given how close Tuesday's voting ended up, Republicans -- one in particular -- must be pondering what might have been.

2) What happened to those independent candidates? Speaking of primaries, remember those competitive Republican contests in the 2nd and 5th districts? Democrats believed that unrest on the GOP side would help Reps. Glenn Nye (D) and Tom Perriello (D), as some Republicans accused their eventual nominees in those races -- auto dealer Scott Rigell and state Sen. Robert Hurt -- of being insufficiently conservative.

After Rigell and Hurt won their primaries, both men drew challenges from conservative independent candidates. Democrats hoped those men would peel enough votes away from the Republicans to help Nye and Perriello win, even going so far as to send mail into the 5th district to boost the candidacy of Jeffrey Clark. But that strategy failed to pay dividends.

On Election Day, Clark drew just 2 percent of the vote (Perriello lost by 3 points), while Independent Kenny Golden -- the former chairman of the Virginia Beach GOP -- picked up 4 percent in the 2nd district, where Nye lost by 11 points. The only district in the state where third-party candidates drew reasonably well was the 6th district, where Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R) faced no Democratic opponent and an independent candidate and a Libertarian took a combined 22 percent of the vote.

3) Is Jim Moran unbeatable? In the last two months before the voting, some Republicans and conservatives in the media started promoting the idea that an upset was in the making in the 8th district.

Maybe, just maybe, the theory went, the Republican wave that was building across Virginia and the nation could unseat Moran from his Alexandria and Arlington-based district. Retired Army Col. Patrick Murray was a clear outsider and had the support of a host of prominent GOP officials and lobbyists -- many of whom live in the district and have long disliked Moran.

In the last week of the race, Republicans seized on comments by Moran in which he complained that he faced an opponent who hadn't done "any kind of public service." Moran later said he was referring to Murray's lack of civic participation, but critics said he was disparaging military service.

Whatever the case, Moran ended up beating Murray, 61 percent to 37 percent. The incumbent's support was down from the 68 percent he got in 2008 and the 66 percent he got in 2006, but given the GOP's performance statewide on Tuesday, Moran can feel happy that he still exceeded the 60 percent mark.

4) Did Ball get a bounce? Of all the candidates in the country who faced essentially unwinnable races, few got as much attention this cycle as Krystal Ball.

Though she ran an energetic and relatively well-funded campaign, the Democratic nominee against Rep. Rob Wittman (R) in the Republican-leaning 1st district was mainly known for her unusual name until early October, when a conservative blog posted photos of Ball and her husband posing with a sex toy. Ball said the photos were taken years earlier, when she was just out of college, and complained that their publication was "sexist and wrong."

The story became national news. Ball did interviews with big networks, and got more attention as a result than she ever would have otherwise. But the controversy did not seem to boost her fundraising -- she raised just $23,000 in the first two weeks of October, when the story crested -- and it's hard to tell whether it had much effect on her vote totals.

Wittman beat Ball on Tuesday, 64 percent to 35 percent, an improvement for the Republican over 2008, when he beat Democrat Bill Day, 57 percent to 42 percent.

5) Is the 2nd district competitive? Now that Republicans have ousted Nye, Perriello and Rep. Rick Boucher (D), operatives from both parties are pouring over the results trying to figure out how those districts will play in the future -- both in House races and in the 2012 presidential contest.

While it's possible to argue that Perriello's 5th district and Boucher's 9th district have always leaned toward Republicans and simply behaved as they should this cycle, the Hampton Roads-based 2nd district is harder to figure out. Obama lost the other two districts in 2008 -- the 5th by 3 points and the 9th by 19 points -- but he actually won the 2nd, which includes Virginia Beach, part of Norfolk and the state's Eastern Shore, by 2 points.

When Nye and Obama both won in the 2nd in 2008, Democrats were hopeful that it wasn't just a fluke -- that perhaps the district, while still conservative, was gradually trending in their direction. Maybe it is, but this year's campaign certainly didn't show it: Rigell beat Nye by 11 points, even besting the Democrat in urban areas like Norfolk City. Did Nye simply suffer from low black turnout in those regions, particularly after bragging about the fact that he had voted against Obama's health-reform bill? Will the 2nd bounce back to swing status in 2012 with Obama on the ballot again? Just two more years before we find out.

By Ben Pershing  | November 4, 2010; 12:21 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Virginia Congressional Races, Ben Pershing, Election 2010, Gerald E. Connolly, Glenn Nye, James P. Moran Jr., Keith Fimian, Morgan Griffith, Pat Herrity, Rick Boucher, Rob Wittman, Robert Hurt, Scott Rigell, Tom Perriello  
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I don't agree with the phrasing for question 3 - i.e., "Is Jim Moran unbeatable?"

I think that the more accurate question is, "Does any Republican have a chance in District 8?" Even if Moran retires, the 8th district is likely to vote (overwhelmingly) Democratic.

This result should not be a surprise since the district is the result of gerrymandering to form a Democratic stronghold. Seriously, view it on a map. It includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church city...and then a narrow boundary shoots out to pick up liberal Reston...while dodging historically Republican-leaning areas in between.

Yeah, Moran is the king of pork, but the majority of his constituents aren't voting Republican anytime soon...regardless of who's in the D column.

Posted by: scuba_steve | November 4, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

1) What if Pat Herrity had won?

Well, he got his butt kicked, first off, as you point out, but

The better question is, if the county and district GOP, including Fairfax County GOP chairman Anthony Bedell had not endorsed Herrity before a single primary vote had been cast, perhaps Fimian would have had more support from his own party. Instead, once Fimian did beat Herrity handily, the very moderate leaning Fairfax GOP sat on its hands as long as it could, not even sending out one mailing for Fimian nor did any of the elected GoPers in fairfax, outside of John Cook, speak up for Fimian. Instead, the county GOP leadership treats Tom Davis like some sort of elder statesman, even know Davis is so moderate he could not get the nomination if he wanted to now.

Also, Pat Herrity is a good guy, but her ran a very dirty campaign, ala Gerry Connolly and while his dad was a great person, he had a lot of baggage and made a lot of enemies, and he also ran for congress and lost, I think to Leslie Byrne?
So saying the herrity name would have helped is not logical.

Connolly ran a dirty campaign, The post and connection propped him up, and Connolly owes a big thanks to independent Chris Carlo of Fairfax Propane who runs for any office he can every year. This dope, who is basically a republican, received more than 1000 votes, making the difference for Connolly. The 15000 clowns who sign De Carlo's petition every year are probably all democrats.

The trick to getting someone like Fimian elected is to get fimian supporters in the Fairfax GOP leadership, get the Davis people, including Anthony Bedell, out. IT is too bad Frank Wolfe is never in a competitive race, it would give him more incentive to get involved with the county committee.

Posted by: fairfaxgoper | November 4, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Fairfaxgoper, everything you wrote there is absolutely ridiculous. The only area in Fairfax County where Fimian won by a significant margin (and only one of two areas he actually did win) was Springfield - he beat Connolly there 55-45%. Hell, in some of the precincts, Fimian beat McDonnell's raw vote totals, which is just amazing and a testament to the hard work and GOTV of the campaign and the FCRC.

That's Pat Herrity's district.

The fact that anyone endorsed anyone in the primary had nothing to do with the general election. The GOP was 100% behind Fimian. The Fairfax County Republican Committee made more phone calls into the 11th than any other county committee in the state.

Bedell a Davis person? He took over the committee in 2009 - long after Davis was gone. I don't know what it is about Fimian supporters that make it impossible for them to lay the blame for his loss where it belongs - on Fimian.

If Fimian can't win in this environment, he can't win period.

Posted by: DCG65 | November 4, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

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