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Dems Meet in Richmond Next Week To Gear Up for Electoral Challenges

connolly119It is already crunch time for Virginia’s Democrats, faced with the daunting task of bracing against and reversing the red tide of Republican gains in the last election. They need to turn current trends around to retain control of the state senate this fall, and in 2012 to return a Democrat to the U.S. Senate’s narrow majority and again be a critical factor in the election of President Obama, this time to a second term.

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REP. GERRY CONNOLLY told the News-Press last week that his 11th District will be critical to Democratic electoral successes this year and next.. (Photo: News-Press)

It is already crunch time for Virginia’s Democrats, faced with the daunting task of bracing against and reversing the red tide of Republican gains in the last election. They need to turn current trends around to retain control of the state senate this fall, and in 2012 to return a Democrat to the U.S. Senate’s narrow majority and again be a critical factor in the election of President Obama, this time to a second term.

A first-ever state Democratic Party summit has been slated for July 15-16 in Richmond to begin the process.

In particular, for Northern Virginia and even more narrowly the eastern half of Fairfax County roughly correlating to the boundaries (as yet not actually finalized for the next decade) of Democratic U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly’s 11th District, is expected to be a critical battleground in those struggles, especially for the U.S. Senate and presidential races.

As the Fairfax County Republican Party is gearing up its machine for a series of county board and school board elections this fall, Democratic strategists are already looking beyond this November to a year later, when a major turnout of their voters in the 11th District will once again be decisive for the nation as a whole.

The reason is straightforward: the statewide margins of victory for Tim Kaine, when he ran for governor in 2005 and for U.S. Senator Jim Webb, pitted against George Allen, when he ran in 2006 were both provided by voters in the 11th District. Lopsided Democratic majorities in the 11th District in both those races were greater than the overall vote margin for the winners in both those races.

Also, much of Obama’s margin of victory in Virginia in 2008 was found in the 11th.

So, when familiar players will again be matched next year, the 11th District will again be expected to be critical: Tim Kaine is back, this time as the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate; and, George Allen is (presumably) back, trying again to win that seat. Of course, Obama will also be back.

A positive sign that the 11th could come through again for Democrats was found in Rep. Connolly’s tough victory in his bid for a second term last fall. Connolly was the only Democrat in Virginia to buck the trend, pulling out a close victory even as three other Democratic incumbents in southern Virginia went down to defeat.

Connolly, in an exclusive interview with the News-Press at his Annandale field office last week, said the key for area Democrats in elections both this year and next will be “to reconnect with the outer suburbs” in Prince William and Loudoun counties. Among other things, he said, there has been a significant growth in the diversity of racial and ethnic groups in those counties in the last decade.

Kaine, in particular, will be a strong asset to the party overall, given his acknowledged achievements as a popular governor. “He established himself as a strong moderate leader,” Connolly said. “He cut billions out of the state budget when he had to because of the Recession, but he did it without eviscerating social services. Virginia was ranked the best state in the U.S. for doing business all the years he was governor, and the best for opportunities for children. It was in the top five or six in all major categories, and he did it without resorting to draconian, Darwinian cuts.”

On the other hand, Connolly said, Allen has not run for office since Webb upset him in 2006, and now faces two new pressures arrayed against him.

The first, Connolly surmised, is simply being out of date. Allen hasn’t been seen on the political vista in a half-dozen years, and even when his racially-tinged “macaca” comment of the 2006 election helped to torpedo his campaign, it was seen as not only insensitive, but as a sign that Allen was out of touch with the times, even back then. This factor will be even more the case in 2012, the congressman offered.

The second new pressure on Allen will come from the Tea Party, Connolly noted. This was not a factor the last time he ran, but he has already re-tooled his campaign posture to accommodate it, including by being touted as the first U.S. Senate candidate to sign the Tea Party’s “Contract From America” pledge last spring.

Still, he faces a primary challenge from Jamie Radtke, former head of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation, and three other candidates, and some suggest he’ll also get a third-party challenge if he wins, as expected, the GOP nomination.

According to a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in May, the opinion held by Tea Party loyalists about Allen is mixed at this stage. Thus, the pressure will only become greater and greater for Allen to veer to the right, Connolly noted.

“This election will be about the past versus the future,” Connolly said, and its outcome will be decided by who can get out the vote especially among the highly-educated, affluent, high achievement, knowledge-based technology sector voters growing in influence in the 11th District and Northern Virginia generally.

At the summit slated for July 15-16 at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, the Democratic Party of Virginia, under chair Brian Moran, is combining with Organizing for America and the Virginia Young Democrats to sponsor the two-day set of briefings on policy issues and training sessions on communicating “powerful” messages and running effective local volunteer recruitment and retention efforts.