In a race that has been more an exhausting marathon, the relentless efforts of some of the region’s most prominent Democrats to snatch and fill the shoes of retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Moran as the congressman from Virginia’s 8th District have slogged into this final week. Election day, June 10, is next Tuesday, and despite tireless efforts of the now seven remaining candidates in the field, little appears to have changed since the mid-March kickoff of the competition.
Former two-term Virginia Lieutenant Governor Donald S. Beyer Jr., the Falls Church business leader who spent the last four years serving the Obama administration as a diplomatically-important U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, has remained well ahead of the field, according to insiders, even though he’s being challenged by a formidable field of opponents.
In fact, the margins reflected in an unofficial straw poll hosted by State Del. Marcus Simon at Falls Church’s Sfizi last Sunday turned out not so out of line with the consistent results of private polling through the course of the race. In the Del. Simon poll, Beyer’s 24 votes was three times the number of the next highest recipient.
At last Friday night’s debate in North Arlington demonstrated, the final such event of the race, on display was how Beyer has become the sole target of all his opponents’ political offensives, the only one subjected to negative allegations, mostly aimed at trying to pin some positions taken by some of his business-related alliances on him.
Friday, such attacks proved to be little more than foils, presented Beyer, the “teflon” candidate, with ample opportunities to sharply and effectively acquit, only adding to the perception that he’s the right man for the job, while making the point that if that’s all they can get on him, then he’s pretty clean.
An anonymous Twitter account called “Beyer Beware” has been tweeting out negatives on Beyer in recent weeks, but none have appeared to stick, as they didn’t Friday night.
On the other hand, Beyer was strong Friday in his admission that he’d made mistakes in the past, mainly in his earlier stand against gay marriage. Like Obama, he’s done an about-face on that, and in his ubiquitous presence at all events, great and small, during his campaign, he made a big point when he stressed that to the one hosted by the LGBT Democrats of Virginia.
With three openly gay candidates among his opponents in the race, a number that dropped to two when State Del. Mark Sickles dropped out, and with openly gay State Sen. Adam Ebbin running one of the strongest campaigns for the seat, Beyer has been making a special effort to show his ability to grow and embrace the concept of gay marriage. The other gay candidate, Mark Levine, a former aide to retired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, postured himself as to the left of everyone else.
Another strong opponent, State Del. Patrick Hope of North Arlington, inexplicably overlooked the LGBT Dems event, and has put the issue of 85,000 persons with no health insurance in the district at the forefront of his focus.
In the face off of Beyer versus the younger Hope, Hope has unofficially struck the theme of generations, tagging Beyer as the poster boy of the Baby Boomer generation, with his compromises and political wheeling and dealing, against Hope the hope of the younger Millennials, purer in their approach to politics.
But the question for Hope, and the other challengers to Beyer, is who will bother to get out to vote in the Dem primary. The younger, progressive Democrats of Hope’s home turf in North Arlington are less likely to make it to the polls, especially in the face of the perception that Beyer has a lock on the nomination, whereas the seasoned Democratic political regulars who know the importance of the race remain staunch in their support of Beyer.
Confidence exuded from the Beyer camp this week. In an e-mail to Beyer supporters, the campaign invited everyone to a victory party Tuesday night, saying, “We feel confident heading into Primary Day, thanks to the help and friendship of his team. We need to finish with a strong Get Out The Vote and then we will celebrate!”
Political regulars who aren’t for Beyer are more likely to align with Ebbin, who almost everyone concedes is a formidable force for the future in the party. He has been systematic and focused in his “getting things done” theme about his 10 years in the state legislature. “I am an effective legislator who shares your values,” he said.
If the turnout issue works in their favor, surprise results could favor Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and Alexandria activist Lavern Chatman, both attractive candidates with demonstrated pull. Euille succeeded Moran as mayor of Alexandria, and with his re-elections has demonstrated an ability to win the loyalty of a constituency. As for Urban League activist Chatman, her impressive record of achievements as a regional party activist caused her to quip Friday night that it might have been a mistake for her to subordinate herself to helping the campaigns of Democratic colleagues over the years, and not to have jumped into the electoral fray, herself, before now.
Then there is Virginia Tech professor Derek Hyra, who focused on the loss of 26,000 affordable housing units in the district in recent years, and the need to reverse that trend.
Beyer said he was raised by parents who were “New Dealers” who taught him to be a “change agent.” He has fought to protect women, to curtail the influence of the NRA, and as lieutenant governor, non-profit leader, job creator and ambassador, was never, as some opponents, intimated, a lobbyist.
Euille was raised by a single mom in public housing who said, “My life is overcoming odds.” He pointed out there are 63,000 bridges in the U.S. that are at risk for lack of infrastructure investment. Chatman is the daughter of a postal worker. Hope said “we need a new American economy” with an increased minimum wage and higher taxes on the rich for infrastructure development.
Ebbin said the deficit is not a first priority, but jobs and the defense of Obama’s health policy, Social Security and Medicare are. Hope asked, “Who among the candidates is going to speak up?” He said solutions are going to have to come from the “bottom up, not the top down.” He added, “Who do you trust among us to stand up against a grand bargain to be a voice for the downtrodden?”
Levine said, “We need a second stimulus,” and called for lifting the Social Security tax. Chatman said that with burdensome student loans, the young will never be able to be homeowners. Ebbin said his focus is on effectiveness, to “win some unlikely allies to improve the lives of everyday people.”
Over the course of the debate, Beyer said he’s never been for a national sales tax, does not support mandatory arbitration contracts, or been a lobbyist for the auto industry.
Many Democratic activists at Friday’s debate were talking about the futures of the many qualified candidates. How long will the winner want to hold onto the seat before moving on, before opening it up to another one?
Preparing to pull everyone back together right after Tuesday’s primary, a unity party was announced for next Thursday night, when hopefully all hatchets will be buried and the party unites in the 8th District, not so much for winning the congressional seat in the November general election, but for giving a major boost to U.S. Senator Mark Warner, who will be faced with a tough re-election fight in the fall.