Sabato's Crystal Ball

Virginia Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Virginia (02)

Outlook: Leans Republican


October 3, 2008 Update:

Republicans are hoping this will be the year Rep. Thelma Drake wins convincingly and takes her name off of the Democratic target list in Virginia. Her opponent, Glenn Nye is trying hard to convince his fellow Democrats that Drake is not out of the woods yet. He recently released a poll that shows only a five-point deficit in his race against Drake. If true, this would justify the attention Nye’s been clamoring for and the DCCC has been granting.

Unfortunately for Nye, candidate-commissioned polls often tell the campaign what they want to, rather than what they need to, hear. While Nye has been trying to use his diplomatic background to sway this heavily military district, many believe that tactic ignores a great cultural difference between the two groups. Some Democrats privately worry that Nye isn’t the dynamic figure that would be needed to win over this Republican district and McCain’s military background could create coattails that would be difficult to overcome.

As it stands, this is likely to be another tough race for Drake, something Republicans will be sorry to hear. The news is at least as bad for Democrats, though, who may have had a better shot at taking their seat last cycle.

June 3, 2008 Update:

Rep. Thelma Drake’s biennial underperfomance (she’s won 51 and 55 percent of the vote in her two elections, while Bush got 58 percent in 2004) makes her a biennial target for Democrats. Drake’s hoping to finally break the cycle, facing off this year against diplomat Glenn Nye, a Democrat with 9 percent name identification according to a recent poll. Through late May, Nye had managed to raise $300,000, but Drake had nearly quadrupled that effort.

Still, there is some hope for Democrats. The mixed blessing of Nye’s low name ID is that his horserace numbers are bound to go up. The same poll showed him losing to Drake 48-32, but as he introduces himself to voters, those numbers will go up. Conversely, Drake’s 95 percent name ID doesn’t give her much upwards potential. National Democrats are hopeful about this race, noting Drake’s inability to put away her competitors and Drake’s nearly equal approval and disapproval numbers.

The bottom line is that Nye needs to get his name out there, and sooner rather than later. To take advantage of this upward potential he has to plaster his name and face on TV, radio, and newspapers for the next five months. To do that, he must start raising money and in much larger chunks than he has thus far. This mountain isn’t the steepest Dems have faced, but it’s a mountain nonetheless and it will take the right equipment and a healthy does of perseverance to reach the summit by November.


Background

The odds of Representative Thelma Drake facing a competitive reelection bout grow ever more unlikely by the day. In 2006 and 2004, Drake fended off competitive challenges from commissioner Phillip Kellam and Naval reservist David Ashe, respectively, with healthy margins of victory. As of yet, no top-tier Democrats have announced, and Drake’s only opponent is diplomat Glenn Nye.

Virginia’s second district lies predominantly in the conservative, military-friendly Virginia Beach metropolitan area. Although the district voted overwhelmingly for President Bush (58% in 2004), Drake is perennially perceived as vulnerable because she hails from Norfolk, which comprises a small minority of district voters. As time goes by and Drake broadens her district loyalties, this handicap should disappear. Avoiding a competitive race this fall could go great lengths to entrenching Congresswoman Drake and guaranteeing a long career representing the second district.

Candidates

Glenn Nye – Democrat – diplomat
Website

Thelma Drake (I) – Republican – current Congresswoman
Website

Virginia (05)

Outlook: Likely Republican


November 14, 2008 Update:

Democrat Tom Perriello declared victory in the 5th district early this week but his opponent Virgil Goode has yet to concede. As of Nov. 14, the State Board of Elections’ website showed Perriello ahead by 745 votes. The State Board of Elections must verify the election results by Nov. 24, and the losing candidate will then have the chance to ask for a recount up to ten days after that point.

November 7, 2008 Update:

Democrat Tom Perriello is leading by 648 votes with 100% of precincts reporting. But the results won’t be certified by the Board of Elections until Nov. 24th and the loser must file for a recount by Dec. 4.

October 28, 2008 Update:

Democrats are hoping this will be the year they finally unseat six-term incumbent Rep. Virgil Goode with Tom Perriello. Polls may get their hopes up –the last one Sept. 30 showed Goode’s staggering 34 point advantage in August slashed to just 13 percent (55 to 42 percent). While the margin is still considerable, the dip is still significant for an incumbent who has always won his previous races by a minimum 19-point landslide. For his part, Goode has outpaced his opponent in financing despite an early setback. Recent campaign finance show that between June 1 and September 30, Goode led Periello in terms of contributions by over $120,000 ($532,750 to $412,488). He also has more than twice as much cash on hand than his opponent ($686,051 to $321,233).

The race is tightening in its last lap. Both candidates picked up some high-profile endorsements this month – Sen. Jim Webb and Gov. Tim Kaine for Perriello and Attorney General Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov Bill Bolling for Goode. The ad-war is also getting increasingly nasty, with the DCCC running radio ads linking Goode with “big oil” and Goode’s campaign airing one claiming Perriello was opposed to offshore drilling. Perriello called it “libelous” and asked television stations to stop airing the ad. That’s as good an indicator as any that this race is heating up.

While Perriello still has to close a wide gap within the next few weeks, he is certainly pulling off the toughest fight for Goode’s seat yet, raising more money than his previous opponents and buying up television time to get his name out. But whether or not the Democrats paint this district blue remains to be seen.


Background

Incumbent Rep. Virgil Goode made national headlines last December for his comments about fellow Congressman Keith Ellison, who is Muslim. While that controversy has certainly died down, the Virginia 5th is in the headlines again, at least across the state. This time the focus is attorney Tom Perriello who clinched the Democratic nomination and has thus far outraised Goode. Perriello’s fundraising success led the DCCC in April to add Goode to their list of targeted incumbents.

How optimistic should Democrats be? That remains to be seen. But if history is a
ny predictor: not very. The district is GOP country, with only the liberal city of Charlottesville to keep things potentially competitive. Bush carried the district with 56 percent of the vote in 2004 and Goode has only once dipped under 60 percent in his six elections. Goode won with 59 percent of the vote in 2006, spending $1 million to his opponent’s $500,000. If Democrats can narrow that fundraising gap this time around, or even reverse it, perhaps that will be enough to topple this entrenched incumbent.

Candidates

Tom Perriello – Democrat – public entrepreneur
Website

Virgil Goode (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Virginia (11) (Open Seat)

Outlook: Likely Democratic


October 23, 2008 Update:

The race between former home inspector Keith Fimian and local government representative Gerry Connolly seems to be moving even further in the latter’s direction with the latest finance reports. A poll taken over three months ago had shown Connolly ahead 52 percent to 21 percent. Since then, he has narrowed his opponent’s $400,000 cash advantage, with the most recent campaign finance filings show that he has $646,252 in the bank to Fimian’s $718,630. The closing gap is significant because, with a lack of experience in local government and almost no name recognition, Fimian’s chief advantage in the race had been his cash.

Despite this, the race itself has shown no signs of dying down. Both candidates and their supporters have run incisive negative ads and fought harsh debates. At a recent debate held last month, Fimian accused Connolly, who was chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, of pushing through a redevelopment plan for his own financial gain, calling him a “poster child for corruption”. Connolly called it “slander”, before criticizing his opponent’s lack of local government expertise as just “showing up for an election”. National campaigns have also joined the show. The DCCC criticized Fimian’s membership on the board of Catholic business group Legatus as funding “anti-female” organizations, while the NRCC has attacked Connolly for holding on to campaign funds donated by Rep. Charles B. Rengel who is being investigated by a House ethics panel for tax evasion.

Despite the back and forth, the district should be a comfortable pickup for Connolly, given his decade-long involvement in local government and resulting name recognition. Besides, a population influx in this affluent district has seen it turning increasingly blue in the last few years. The retiring incumbent in this open seat race, Tom Davis, had seen a dramatic slicing of his election winning percentages in the last six years – from 83 percent in 2002 to just 55 percent in 2006 against an underfunded candidate. With the cash gap narrowing, Connolly’s prospects seem even brighter.

June 11, 2008 Update:

The Democratic primary ended with a surprisingly lopsided result and unsurprisingly low turnout. With just 6% of registered voters casting ballots, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly defeated former Rep. Leslie Byrne by a 58-33 margin, with two minor candidates splitting the remainder.

Connolly will now face Republican businessman Keith Fimian in the fall general election. Connolly won the primary with support from Gov. Tim Kaine, but Fimian has the backing of the congressman he seeks to replace, Tom Davis. The wild card here is demographics and growth. While Bush eeked out a victory in the district in 2004 by just 2,000 votes out of 300,000, the Northern Virginia area is, rightfully, seen as trending Blue. Couple that trend with the expected anti-GOP voter sentiment this fall and this race has a Democratic lean as the general election campaign gets underway.


Background

Representative Tom Davis has had a tough year. Coming into 2007, he was a widely-respected moderate Republican with realistic ambitions of a Senatorial promotion after Senator John Warner’s retirement. In October, his Senate dreams died when Virginia Republicans opted for a nominating convention, in November, his wife, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis lost her state senate seat to a Democratic challenger, and by January, Davis had called it quits in Congress.

Even before Davis’ departure, Democrats had fielded two top-tier challengers: former Representative Leslie Byrne, whom Davis defeated in 1994, and Fairfax county supervisors chair Gerry Connolly. While Byrne has an early lead in polling, Connolly’s connections with the business community should generate sizeable fundraising returns, a necessity to compete in Washington media markets. The Republican nomination remains cloudy, as no candidates have announced, but businessman Keith Fimian commands an early advantage with a sizeable $670K warchest. The district has trended Democratic in recent years—voting for Governor Kaine and Senator Webb in 2005 and 2006 respectively—but a divisive primary between Byrne and Connolly could provide a window for the GOP to retain Davis’ seat.

Candidates

Gerry Connolly – Democrat – chair of Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Website

Keith Fimian – Republican – founder of home inspection company
Website