Dems Poised to Take 3 GOP State Senate Seats in Fairfax

Expect Pattern of Votes in ’05, ’06 To Hold Tuesday

Trusting the stunning pro-Democratic shift in Fairfax County voting patterns the last two years will remain in effect next Tuesday, Virginia’s Democratic leadership is optimistic about the transfer of three county GOP-held state senate seats to their camp. That would spearhead their party’s drive to wrest control of the state senate from Republicans, overall, something that most pundits consider likely.

But Democratic leaders have told the News-Press that some key races in play, especially in the southern part of the state, are tightening as election day approaches. Democrats need a net gain of four seats that Republicans currently control for the senate to shift, overall, in their favor. At a McLean rally with Governor Tim Kaine Tuesday, State Sen. Dick Saslaw said he expected a shift of six seats. But with a low voter turnout expected, getting out the vote is now key to both parties’ efforts.

They’re counting on capturing all three such seats in Fairfax, the state’s largest county with a population of over a million, pointing to the lopsided margin their party achieved there for Gov. Tim Kaine in November 2005 and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb a year ago.

The population-dense eastern part of the county, including much of the wider Falls Church area bordering on Alexandria, Arlington and the City of Falls Church, came on especially strong for Democrats in those elections, attributed to a demographic shift linked to the growth of new high-tech jobs and racial and ethnic minority populations in the area.

This is a manifestation of what has been called the growth of the “creative class” by George Mason University professor Richard Florida. His research has shown that well-educated, younger technology and design-oriented citizens tend to be both politically-attuned and favoring pragmatic, not ideological solutions. They believe strongly in fair play and equal rights for all, meaning that they strongly reject conservative saws of opposition to gay rights and relief for undocumented workers, among others.

Practically speaking, next Tuesday this electoral factor could once again score big for Democrats in Fairfax, with former Fairfax School Board member Janet Oleszek given odds to unseat GOP incumbent Ken Cuccinelli in the 37th Senate District, George Barker holding a slight edge over Republican incumbent Jay O’Brien in the 39th District, and former State Del. Chap Petersen an edge on Republican incumbent Jeannemarie Devolites Davis in the 34th District.

But “creative class” values may actually play against the Democrats in the Petersen vs. Devolites Davis race. Because of his conservative voting record, refusal to publicly clarify issues associated with his ties to a virulently anti-gay church, and questionable statements about church-state issues during the campaign, Petersen is seen by many as to the political right of his GOP opponent. However, Democrats, including Petersen himself, have stressed the overriding importance of winning the majority in the senate.

Still, Petersen’s is the only contested race in the state where organizers for the Human Rights Campaign, a powerful gay and lesbian rights organization, have not weighed in for the Democrat. The HRC’s robust volunteer effort has been described by the progressive “Raising Kaine” blog as the Democrats’ “secret weapon number one” in the overall Virginia election.

Devolites-Davis, in the meantime, announced yesterday that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, will fly to Dulles Airport to endorse her candidacy this afternoon.

In addition to the demographic shifts, hoped-for strong showings for Democrats in Fairfax County are also attributed to a record of results by local government, Fairfax Board Chair Gerry Connolly, himself seeking reelection Tuesday, told the News-Press this week. “Our enormous momentum has its genesis in clear, effective and efficient local government,” he said. “It has made voters receptive to our candidates, so many of whom come from long histories of participation in local government.”

He said that at least six Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s election served in appointed or elected volunteer local government positions, “which is how you build talent.” He named Janet Oleszek, Jay Donahue, Steve Shannon, George Barker, Chuck Caputo and David Bulova as examples. 

In both 2005 and 2006, Fairfax County results were strongly in favor of Democrats at the top of the ticket. In the 11th Congressional District of eastern Fairfax, Kaine won with 55.67% of the majority in 2005, and Webb won with 54.67% in 2006. The margins in that district were far greater than the statewide margin of victory for both of those candidates.

The results were much closer in the western part of the county. In the 10th Congressional District, that also includes much of Loudoun County, Kaine and Webb each won with less than 51%.

Democrats also expect to make gains in the House of Delegates Tuesday, with Margaret Vanderhye expected to defeat Republican Dave Hunt in the McLean 34th District seat vacated by the retirement of the GOP’s Vince Callahan. But few Democrats feel they can turn enough seats, statewide, to gain overall control of that legislative body.

In other Fairfax Delegate races, Rex Simmons is considered dead even with Republican incumbent Tim Hugo in the 40th District, Jay Donahue is giving Republican incumbent Tom Rust a strong run, and in Prince William County’s 13th District Bruce Roemmelt is in an uphill battle against Republican incumbent Bob Marshall, the co-author of the anti-gay marriage Marshall-Newman amendment that was on the ballot a year ago.

In Loudoun County’s 33rd District, Democrat Marty Martinez’s odds for unseating Republican incumbent Joe May rose this week with the revelation that May is the treasurer of an organization called Sons of Confederate Veterans, which the Southern Poverty Law Center, a well-known watchdog organization monitoring hate groups, said “has been dominated by racial extremists since 2002.”

Meanwhile, incumbents are expected to hold onto all seats on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, beginning with Democrat Gerry Connolly as chairman over Republican McLean attorney Gary Baise and independent Gail Parker.

In the eastern part of the county, Mason District incumbent Penny Gross is favored over her Republican challenger Vellie Dietrich Hall, Dranesville District incumbent Joan DuBois is expected to beat her Democratic challenger John Foust, and Providence District incumbent Democrat Linda Smyth is running unopposed.

In the 31st State Senate District, incumbent Democrat Mary Margaret Whipple faces nominal opposition from Independent Green candidate Sam Burley, while State Delegates Jim Scott in the 53rd District and Bob Hull in the 38th District, both Democrats, are running unopposed.

Republican Patrick McDade is running against Democrat Ray Morrogh for an open slot as Commonwealth Attorney in Fairfax, while in Arlington Democrats Mary Hynes and incumbent Walter Tejada are expected to win posts on the County Board over Republicans Michael McMenamin and Joseph Warren and independent Josh Ruebner.

Current County Board chair Paul Ferguson is a heavy favorite to be elected to the open Clerk of the County Court seat over Mark Kelly. Incumbent Arlington-Falls Church Commonwealth Attorney Dick Trodden is running unopposed.

In the Fairfax County School Board elections, Kaye Kory is running unopposed in the Mason District, Phil Niedzielski-Eichner unopposed in the Providence District and Janie Strauss unopposed in the Dranesville District. Among at-large members, incumbents Steve Hunt of Fairfax Station and Ilryong Moon of Annandale, face six challengers, including Christian Braunlich of Alexandria, Ralph Cooper of Springfield, Paul Castantino of Springfield, Tina Hone of Falls Church, Jim Raney of Alexandria and Christopher Volkstorf of Springfield.

All polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.