Republican resurrection: Margin stuns Dems--- and the GOP
Four years ago, Creigh Deeds lost a statewide race to Bob McDonnell by one of the smallest margins– 360 votes– in recent history. In glaring contrast, his 18-point defeat to McDonnell November 3 marks one of the largest margins in a governor's race since George Allen crushed Mary Sue Terry in 1993, 58 percent to 41 percent.
So resounding is the rout, both Democrats and Republicans are scratching their heads, despite pre-election polls predicting a McDonnell victory.
"Personally, I thought it would be closer than that," says Fred Hudson, chairman of the 5th District Democratic committee and the number 3 Dem statewide. He attributes the staggering loss to an "anti-Washington factor."
"I was surprised by that," says Republican radio host Rob Schilling. "The polls were well into double digits–- 14, 16 points. I thought the polls have got to be wrong."
For Schilling, the dissatisfaction he's seen across the state comes from national politics. "It seems everyone I talked to was fed up on a national level," he says.
The shockwaves that loosened the Democratic grasp of the governorship were felt in local elections, which ousted an incumbent Dem from the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and ushered two Republicans on the board.
"Albemarle County voted at the same level it did in 2008," says Democrat Hudson. "It did not have lower turnout. Republicans were highly motivated, highly charged about getting out the vote."
And although Deeds represents part of Albemarle County as 25th District state senator, McDonnell carried the county by 337 votes.
In the Samuel Miller District, Republican Duane Snow won a three-way race, taking 45 percent of the vote against Democrat Madison Cummings, who got 40 percent and had the endorsement of retiring Supervisor Sally Thomas. Independent John Lowry came in with 15 percent.
"Duane Snow was the beneficiary of a large amount of anxiety and fear about the direction of Washington," opines Hudson.
"Duane went into this with name recognition from his garden show," says Rob Schilling. "That district is more liberal leaning. Frankly I was expecting John Lowry to take votes away from Duane."
The real upset in perhaps the most contentious county race was Republican Rodney Thomas' defeat of Dem incumbent and chairman of the Board of Supervisors David Slutzky in Rio, Albemarle's smallest and most urban district.
"Supervisor races are so personal–- sometimes they're more that than about the issues." says Paul Wright, Thomas' campaign manager. "Rodney is very personable." And like Snow, he's a native son.
Thomas knocked on 4,000 doors and wore out two pairs of shoes, reports Wright. And in the course of going door-to-door, he heard that the responsiveness of the incumbent was a big issue for constituents, says Wright.
"People said we need someone who returns our call," says Wright. "That's the thing about door-to-door–- people will tell you that."
While Wright says he always thought Thomas had a good chance in unseating Slutzky, he didn't see the 18-point spread in the governor's race.
Compared to 2008, the most significant change this year took place in the 'burbs, believes Wright. "The ones that shifted the most were suburban voters," he says. "McDonnell did very well in Northern Virginia. He did very well in rural areas I thought that were supposed to be Deeds country."
Amid the Republican carnage, Charlottesville remained resolutely Democratic, and the majority party swatted down a single-shot effort by independent Bob Fenwick to get on City Council. Fenwick logged in a respectable 3,280 votes, and in other election years, it would have been enough to get him elected. But this year, he couldn't stop Mayor Dave Norris and Kristin Szakos from maintaining a Democratic Council.
And the city's Democratic momentum elected James Brown for sheriff over independent Paul Best.
It was no surprise that 57th District Delegate David Toscano easily won reelection over independent Robert Brandon Smith, who had little money, organization or publicity. What raised eyebrows was that Smith pulled in 3,840 votes–- 21 percent.
"I was shocked," says Dem chair Fred Hudson. "I had to do a triple take on that."
In sharp contrast in the 58th District, Cynthia Neff had the backing of the Democratic Party in her effort to unseat Rob Bell, and she could only muster 33 percent.
"She worked like a dog," says Hudson. "I was very sad by that. But you've got to place that in the context of who was going into the voting booth and the fixation on Washington."
Rob Schilling thinks Neff's blog and ads that controversially compared Bell to a cheating husband were her undoing. "The strategy to go after Rob personally was a bad idea," says Schilling.
And with the Republican knock-down on November 3, Schilling smells blood in the water for 2010.
"I think [5th District Congressman] Tom Perriello is shaking in his boots, and rightfully should be," declares Schilling.
"I want to emphasize that the results of the election are not the death knell of the Democratic Party," insists Hudson. "I don't think Republicans should think the sky is blue and grass is green. It wasn't that kind of a race. It was an aberration."
Hudson is confident that the economic issues plaguing the Dems this year will have moderated by next year's mid-term elections and will "change the tone and feel of the race," he says. "I'm not very concerned about that."
But this year's race still puzzles Hudson. "It's a heck of a story," he says. "It's whole complex of weird events."