Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

This column is being written after a long night watching the national election returns with old friends at the National Democratic Club close to the capitol in Washington.

This was somewhat unusual in that we usually spend election nights with our democratic friends at whatever watering hole we have chosen to catch the local returns, precinct by precinct. This year there was absolutely no doubt what the local returns were going to be, and watching the national races from a national venue was enticing.

And exciting. The room rang with cheers as democrats edged toward control of the U.S. House of Representatives, a goal that was apparently achieved in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. As this is being written, control of the Senate is still up in the air – though hopes are fast fading. In Virginia, Webb appears to be the winner, though by a razor-thin margin that will be tested in a recount.

So, what wisdom are we to draw from this election both locally and nationally? Here are some random thoughts.

Locally, the election showed a large majority of the citizens are reasonably happy with the county’s governance, the strongly negative editorial policy of the Arlington Sun-Gazette notwithstanding. County Board Chair Chris Zimmerman won with a very comfortable 65% of the vote with school board candidate Sally Baird following with a still comfortable 60% of the vote – in spite off our prediction that Cecilia Espinosa could conceivably win in an upset. The bond issues all won comfortably, and the marriage amendment went down here with a resounding 73.8%. Our intrepid Congressman Jim Moran carried Arlington by 68% and Jim Webb carried by 72.5% of the vote, once again dramatizing the strong Democratic nature of Arlington politics.

Nationally, the dramatic story was the strong pull of national policies and programs in what are usually local races. Political scientists have long described congressional races as being decided largely on local issues and personalities. Polls have consistently shown, for example, that Congress is often held in low esteem – except for the local member of Congress – an interesting anomaly. This year, however, control of the House of Representatives (and maybe the Senate) shifted largely because of national issues, most notably the conduct of the war in Iraq. Popular local political leaders, notably Senator Lincoln Chaffee in Rhode Island, went down to defeat because of the president’s conduct of the war.

Last week’s predictions in this column were a mixed bag. I did confidently predict that Democrats would carry Arlington, but that is largely a no-brainer. I suggested that many Democrats were quietly supporting Independent Cecilia Espinoza for school board for a variety of reasons, and that she could conceivably win because of that. I was not wrong about Democrats supporting her, but I was certainly wrong about the possibility of her winning. Sally Baird won by a very good margin.

I did predict a narrow statewide win by Jim Webb, built on substantial majorities in Northern Virginia. We will see what an almost inevitable recount brings, though recounts seldom change the victor except in cases where the margin of victory is, say, less than a hundred votes.

Finally, I let the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial opposing the marriage amendment lull me into predicting the possibility (it was only that) of the amendment’s defeat statewide. I was wrong. The amendment was adopted by a comfortable statewide majority, though Arlington voted strongly against it. We have not heard the last of this issue.