Election 2010: McCartney on Maryland, D.C. and Virginia races

Nov 03, 2010

Washington Post Metro columnist Robert McCartney will be online Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the midterm elections and the Washington region, including congressional races in Virginia and Maryland, the Maryland governor's race and other statewide votes, the D.C. mayoral and council races nd the impact on the area and what it all might mean for 2012.

We're starting this Web chat a bit earlier than we advertised in some places, because I need to leave a bit early (shortly after 11:30 a.m.) to go to TBD for a TV gig.

Send in those questions!  All subjects related to Washington region and Tuesday's election are welcome.

Did Gerald Connolly get reelected yesterday?

Too early to tell, but signs overall suggest  that Connolly will come out on top in the end. He's currently ahead by 487 votes, with two precincts still to be counted. Both are in Lorton, where he did well two years ago. Elections officials are opening those machines now.  Unless there's a big turnaround from two years ago in those particular precincts, I  expect Connolly will end up the winner.

How long will it take to get the final count? Do you think the Republicans will demand a recount, given that the votes are so close? Any predictions for the outcome?

First, let me provide context for folks from Maryland or the District who aren't following this race:  Democratic incumbent Rep. Gerry Connolly is in a razor-thin finish with Republican challenger Keith Fimian in Virginia's 11th District, which comprises most of Fairfax County and part of Prince William.


We should have a complete count, but not yet officially certified, later today.  Once it's certified, I assume that Fimian will demand a recount. It's so close that the state will probably pay for it.  I'm not sure how long the recount will take.  A statewide recount in the state attorney general's race in 2005 between Bob McDonnell (now governor) and Creigh Deeds lasted until just before Christmas. This would involve fewer votes, since it's just one district, so we might get a final result earlier than that.

I don't believe anyone who wrote in Fenty believed he could win. Instead, the write-in vote was a warning to Gray that he'd better continue Fenty's policies or they would hold him accountable. I know Gray has indeed said he'd continue school reform, the streetcar project, and efficiency reforms in government; the write-in vote was a way of saying "we'll hold you to that."

This questioner is writing about the D.C. mayor's race,  which D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray won easily as expected -- except that there were write-in ballots cast by more than a fifth of voters.  Although the board of elections won't confirm it, it's safe to assume  almost all of the write-ins were for incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty, who lost to Gray in the Democratic primary in September.  I agree with the writer that people who wrote in Fenty were essentially casting a protest vote designed to signal to Gray that he needed to prove himself to them. Fenty himself endorsed Gray and wasn't seeking write-ins. But the large number of write-ins shows Gray has work to do to win over skeptics.

I assume he won too - if so, by how much?

Liberal Jim Moran won easily as expected in the 8th District including parts of Arlington and Fairfax counteis, Alexandria and Falls Church. He had 61 percent of vote, according to results in this morning's Washington Post (page A34).

About the robo-call received by some Maryland voters yesterday claiming "Our goals have been met" and urging Democrats to stay home and not vote - was there anything illegal about it? If the perpetrators are identified, could they be prosecuted or fined for violating election laws, or was it just "free speech"?

This refers to an apparent effort by GOP supporters to suppress turnout by discouraging Democrats from going to the polls. It would presumably be an effort to help GOP challenger Bob Ehrlich topple incumbent Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.  I don't know if it was illegal, although I suspect it might have run afoul of some laws against trying to manipulate an election.  We heard that state Attorney General Doug Gansler  was considering investigating it.  We also heard from the O'Malley campaign that the phone calls originated in the 202 area code, which is of course the District of Columbia.  It's outrageous, of course, but frankly I expect this will not be a lasting controversy. There are almost always complaints about voter intimidation or manipulation on Election Day. In this case, given that O'Malley won by a nearly 14-point margin, it's pretty moot.

Full disclosure, I am a very tired but proud Connolly volunteer who has been door-knocking since Labor Day!! I can literally recall the faces that go with some of the votes I landed for that razor-thin margin. Close races like this make a volunteer really feel good about participating, because every single vote matters. That being said, what the heck is it with these voting machines, that have left two precincts uncounted until today? The same thing just happened in the special election for Ken Cuccinelli's old seat. There is a manual back-up, which allows accurate secure reading of the votes -- the next day. But having this happen twice in a row is unacceptable. I think the state has said we can't buy any more of this type, so we're gradually running each one until it breaks down and we can then replace it with a scannable paper ballot type. This seems dumb. When it comes down to the core function of democracy,we need to spend the money to have a full set of modern, non-broken-down machines of whatever type is now approved. Times are tough but I think Fairfax could eke out that budget line item, don't you? Or the General Assembly could help out? Let's get this right!

That's a good point that a really close race like this demonstrates to campaign volunteers how important they are.  As for the malfunctioning voting machines: Of course we want every machine to work perfectly every time, and we should spend enough money to make that happen, but it's pretty hard to achieve 100 percent efficiency in any human endeavor.  From our point of view in the Post newsroom, the Northern Virginia results operation is a model of efficiency compared to some other parts of the D.C. region.  The District, in particular, was exceedingly slow to release results.

Did O'Malley win by a wider margin this time around? It seemed like Ehrlich was close in a lot of the polls but in the end O'Malley won by a wide margin. Do you think Ehrlich will try again in 4 when O'Malley can't run?

O'Malley won by a considerably wider margin this time around than in 2006.  Considering the trend nationwide was strongly pro-Republican, that's a pretty big achievement for O'Malley.   As for the pre-election polls, Ehrlich was close in some of them. But, to indulge in a bit of Washington Post self-promotion, O'Malley's margin of victory was close to what our final poll on the governor's race showed.  The Ehrlich camp said our polls weren't reliable,  as it did 4 years ago -- but our pollster, Jon Cohen, proved to have been right once again.  I do not think Ehrlich will try to run for governor again. He has made statements suggesting he' doesn't plan to be a candidate for any office again.

Assuming that Connolly wins this one, what are the expectations for 2012? The big issues being that 1) its a presidential election and 2) there is a significant chance that the districts may be adjusted in the wake of the 2010 census. Do you see some of Frank Wolf's area (pretty safe) moving to Connolly territory and some of Connolly's territory becoming Jim Moran's territory?

These are  really interesting questions, but I only feel confident answering the first of them.  Assuming President Obama suffers no huge embarrassments between now and 2012,  he'll run for reelection. That should bring to the polls a lot of young people and other Democratic voters who sat out the mid-terms. That in turn would help Connolly win reelection  (assuming of course that he ends up the winner this time).  So I think having a presidential year will likely help Connolly and other Democrats in 2012.  That's a long way in the future, of course, and many things could change. But that's my best guess now.  As for the second question, I don't know how the 11th District is likely to be reconfigured.  It makes sense that Republicans in the process would try to shift some GOP precincts now in Wolf''s district into the 11th, to help their chances in 2012.

Don't they know who there constituants are? We're in Moran's district but we kept getting calls for Conolly / Fimian.

That's pretty funny.  Annoying to you, but funny to the rest of us.

I like Jim Moran and am glad he was reelected, but it just doesn't make sense to me that he has an essentially noncompetitive district where putting out signs and robocalls is almost a courtesy gesture to the voters (implied message: "I'm not taking you for granted, even though I'm about to win by the usual landslide"), while his peer Gerry Connolly had to fight like heck to scrape by. I wish every district was more competitive and think it might make more engagement and compromise possible once they all get to Congress, because they'd have had to take the issues seriously on the trail instead of facing "no contest" candidates like the ones who ran against Wolf and Moran. Your thoughts?

I do agree.  I think it would be better for the country if Districts were less gerrymandered to strongly lean one way or the other. It would result in less structural polarization within the Congress and encourage more compromise and pragmatism.  It's not going to happen in the current climate, however.  Politicians control the redistricting process, and they act to protect their interests, and politics is quite polarized in the country now.  There needs to be a much stronger, popular,  good-government ethos in the electorate to force that kind of change through.  Not enough people care about it at present.

He seemed like a good candidate to challenge Frank Wolf in the 10th District in Virginia: former military man, experienced businessman. He got the endorsement from the Fairfax Times, which has endorsed Wolf forever. But he got trounced. Is that district just a demographic lock for the Republicans, was Barnett outgunned financially, was the Republican tide too big this year, is Wolf still that strong or is Barnett not well known enough? Or was he simply not a good enough candidate?

I haven't looked into this closely, but I did have a long talk with Barnett at one event and was pretty impressed with him. The District leans GOP, though, and Wolf is a 20-year veteran with high name recognition, a record as a strong advocate for transportation issues (i.e., the Silver Line to Dulles), a record of working with Democrats when necessary to get things done, more money, a better machine, etc.  Plus it was a Republican year.  A Democratic operative sympathetic to Barnett said he had a lot of potential but was a rookie and would be stronger in the future.

Win? Lose? Haven't seen anything about the DC Ward 3 race. Voted for a republican for the 1st time thanks to her.

Democratic incumbent Mary Cheh defeated Republican Dave Hedgepeth 65 percent to 35 percent in affluent, predominantly white Ward 3 in Northwest. Hedgepeth was helped by the Washington Post's Editorial Board endorsement (with which I have nothing to do), and by disgruntlement over Cheh's endorsement of Vince Gray for mayor in a ward that voted overwhelmingly for Adrian Fenty.  But those factors weren't enough to elect a Republican in the strongly Democratic ward.

Governor O'Malley ran on his record, not away from his record. With each policy from climate change, to Chesapeake Bay restoration, to improving schools, to reducing crime, he stressed the number of jobs created. And he addressed other issues such as the foreclosure crisis that voters really care about. Even though MD is a blue state, O'Malley won Baltimore, Howard, and Charles Counties -- counties that Ehrlich did better in 4 years ago. I hope the national dems will take a cue from O'Malley and stand up for the policies that they have enacted.

This raises a crucial question for Democrats: What is the lesson to take away from this election?  The writer thinks O'Malley's success shows national Democrats should be more forthright about defending (mostly) liberal policies. If they weren't so lukewarm about their own principles, this argument runs, the Democrats would do better. I think there's some truth in that. Voters value authenticity and want to support somebody who speaks with authority and stands for something. However, the experience of Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia's 5th District (Charlottesville south to the North Carolina border) is a pretty good example of why that strategy, by itself, won't work. Perriello stoutly defended the Obama administration's policies, voting for health care and stimulus, even in a district that is pretty conservative. The national media and Obama himself pointed to Perriello for his gutsiness and cherished hopes that he would buck the national trend and win.  It would have been a stellar example of the value of sitcking to liberal principles. But it didn't work. Perriello lost, 51 percent to 47 percent.  Policies and ideology trumped passion. Still, given that it's a GOP-leaning district, his margin of defeat was fairly narrow.

During the last week of the campaign the Post reported that the DCCC spent $1.5 million on ads supporting Connolly and attacking Fimian - evidently just enough to squeek out a win. Will Connolly be able to buck the Democratic leadership position on any issues now? Fedeal pay? Job furloughs? Tax cuts?

This will be the last question.  Assuming Connolly ends up the winner, I think he will be more emboldened than ever to buck the Democratic leadership if he thinks it's necessary to get reelected in 2012.  He's bucked them on a couple of jobs bills, and pointed to that repeatedly to try to prove to his constituents that he was a moderate, fiscally sound congressman. I think he'll be doing even more of that.

Apologies to the many people who sent questions that I didn't have time to answer. Thanks to everybody who sent questions, and to all of you out there  reading.

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Robert McCartney
Robert McCartney is a Washington Post columnist covering metropolitan affairs.
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