Democrats will have some extra reason to celebrate on one of their favorite holidays — Labor Day — on Monday this year, as the unexpectedly-lopsided victory for their candidate in the Fairfax County special election for an at-large seat on the school board propelled their choice to a 2-to-1 margin of victory. Karen Keys-Gamarra crushed her Republican rival Chris Grisafe in an election that was called in the wake of the resignation of Republican Jeanette Hough.
The timing of the resignation was designed to ensure that her replacement would be elected in a special election in the midst of lazy summer days, rather than in November, in order to boost the chances for a Republican win. It turned out to be far from it, and the message could not be clearer both for the November statewide elections in Virginia — for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general – and for the midterm elections coming next year.
Being “only” a school board election, Tuesday’s was generally overlooked by national political trend-sensors, but it was for an at-large seat, which means that every registered voter in the 1.2-million Fairfax County was invited to vote. Local pundits predicted that the slow summer pace and general disinterest this month of the year would suppress turnout to about five percent of qualified voters. But the turnout was twice that, indicating that the very idea of being able to vote is suddenly seen by many more as an important part of the franchise of free citizens in this republic than, say, when Donald Trump was not the president.
It, and the ongoing get-out-the-vote effort by Democratic loyalists this year, is not the result of usual partisan issues, but the very special impetus of the Trump phenomenon that is animating impassioned political responses on a level maybe never before seen in a very long time in this country. This election was the first confirmation of that, the first canary in the coal mine who has come out singing like a lead Wagnerian soprano.
This election was spiced by the controversial high school name changing issue that the Fairfax School Board tackled this summer, voting to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School away from a Confederate general. The landslide election of Keys-Gamarra can be viewed as an overwhelming public endorsement of that stand, given that her opponent was aligned with the only two members of the board that voted against it.
So, there will be a lot of happy and energized people at the F.C. Democratic Committee’s Labor Day ice cream social in Cherry Hill Park Monday, followed by the annual barbecue at the home of the late and beloved State Del. Jim Scott.
Keys-Gamarra’s victory was spread almost uniformly across the entirety of Fairfax County, outpacing her GOP rival in all the state senate and delegate districts in the county, as well. It is further evidence that the Democrats could make some major gains in the state legislature this fall.