National Commentary

Fall’s Harbinger In Fairfax County

nfbenton-mugIf the contagious enthusiasm on display last weekend at the annual Democratic Party banquet in Northern Virginia’s million-strong Fairfax County, just across the Potomac from the nation’s capital, is any indicator, then the Democrats are primed for an explosive outburst of campaigning this fall that they hope will compel them to the White House and turn their one GOP-controlled House district blue.

Nationally, as political insiders know, Fairfax County is absolutely pivotal for turning the absolutely pivotal state of Virginia blue. In no less than eight statewide races since 2001 in once deeply red Virginia, Democratic candidates have won with margins of victory accounted for entirely in Fairfax County, buoyed by its immediate neighbors Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church.

It began with the election of current U.S. Senator Mark Warner as governor in 2001, followed by the election of current U.S. Senator Tim Kaine as governor in 2005, then the shocking upset U.S. Senate victory in 2006 over the then-presumptive GOP presidential contender George Allen by Democrat Jim Webb (remember when one racial slur could ruin a candidacy? Compare Allen’s career-ending “macaca” comment then to Donald Trump’s routine slurs this year).

In 2008, Warner won election to the U.S. Senate as President Obama became the first Democrat since 1964 to win Virginia for the U.S. presidency, and in 2012 President Obama carried Virginia by an even wider margin to win re-election to the presidency and with Webb not seeking a second U.S. Senate term, Kaine stepped up to fill that slot. Then, in 2013 Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the race for governor.

So, from 2001 to the present, in statewide elections in Virginia, Democrats have won eight out of nine top of the ticket runs – their only loss amid that entire stretch being for governor in 2009. As in each case, Fairfax County was decisive, so in 2009, the same was proven in reverse, when amid the Great Recession and carry over election fatigue from 2008, enthusiasm visibly waned in Fairfax and so the Democrats took their only ticket-topping statewide loss in the last 15 years.

But that 2009 pause in enthusiasm was the farthest thing from what had the Hilton ballroom in Tysons Corner rocking and rolling last Sunday night.

The cheers and shouts were louder and longer, and the standing ovations more frequent and animated, from the cream of the crop of Democratic activists in this vitally important little corner of the nation on Sunday night.

Pumping up the enthusiasm were the county’s two Democratic U.S. congressmen, Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer, and LuAnn Bennett, their choice to snatch from the GOP its one congressional seat in the county, one of what party strategists think may be potentially enough nationally to take control of the House, much less the Senate, this November.

Appropriately, Beyer cautioned the euphoric crowd to “take nothing for granted.” “Fairfax is the key to the White House,” he said, “But never trust the conventional wisdom. Run as if we’re 20 points down.”

The two keynote speakers were extraordinary living examples of what sets the Democratic Party apart. Both current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Governor McAuliffe’s former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney epitomized the rising young leadership of the party coming only a generation from poverty and lack to now tout the virtues of their party as “providing opportunity for everyone, not a few,” and providing “a voice for the voiceless.”

Castro, considered a possible choice for the Democratic vice presidential nod, grew up in San Antonio, where he became mayor, his mother being the first member of his family to graduate high school since it came from Mexico in 1922. Stoney, raised by his grandmother with a ninth grade education, was the beneficiary of Democratic initiatives like the Pell Grant and is now championing the extraordinary initiative by Gov. McAuliffe to grant full civil rights, including voting rights, to over 200,000 felons in Virginia who’ve served out their time.

The impassioned and articulate young man is now running for Mayor of Richmond. His optimism, energy and deep sense of purpose rubbed off on everyone in that room.