Local Commentary

Editorial: What Happened in Delegate Races?

This Tuesday, the Virginia State Board of Elections certified Democrat Mark Herring as the winner in the razor-thin race for attorney general of Virginia, and although the GOP has not exhausted all of its potential challenges for a recount, it appears now that the Democratic Party has, indeed, turned the tide of history and completed a sweep of all three major statewide offices in this month’s election.

Herring joins party-mates Terry McAuliffe as governor and Ralph Northam as lieutenant governor as winners across the board, and given the difficulties experienced until now of the party winning the White House then also winning statewide offices in Virginia, it is quite an accomplishment.

However, less noticed is the fact that all 100 of the state’s House of Delegates races were also contested in this month’s election, and in the cases of those, Democrats fared much poorer. In fact, with some still disputed outcomes, the net result may be that Democrats actually lost a little ground.

With the glow of victory at the top of the ticket, Democrats have been slow to take too much account of what happened in all those State Delegate races which a year ago seemed so ripe for the picking.

In the November 2012 election, with Obama’s re-election, Gov. Tim Kaine was also elected to the U.S. Senate, and (this was an astounding statistic) did so by carrying 19 state delegate districts where Republicans held delegate seats in the state legislature.

Were the Democrats able to capitalize on that outcome, they could have overcome a huge disadvantage and actually gained control of the House of Delegates this month.

What happened? Almost immediately, pragmatists in the state party leadership lowered expectations, poo-pooing any notion that such a sweep was at all likely. Why, we asked? Explanations were vague, having to do with things like money, a lack of strong candidates, the way voters look at delegate elections differently than statewide ones, and so forth.

Clearly, there was no over-arching vision for great things at the state delegate level. Thinking small, Democrats got small, even less than they’d hoped for.

There were some close races decided by a handful of votes where Democrats came within a narrow margin of unseating incumbent Republicans. Janet Boysko almost unseated Thomas Rust in Herndon, and Kathleen Murphy almost upended Barbara Comstock in McLean. But neither did.

Falls Church was lucky to have a strong Democrat, Marcus Simon, win his maiden campaign filling the vacancy created by Jim Scott’s retirement, and Kaye Kory is growing her political strength in the neighboring Sleepy Hollow district.

But it should be worrisome for Democrats that the closer to the grass roots elections are in Virginia, the more they remain in the control of the GOP.