Brent Finnegan -- June 16th, 2010
During the special election cycle that ended yesterday in Virginia’s 26th House of Delegates district, The Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) pumped nearly $59,000 into Harrisonburg Mayor Kai Degner’s campaign. By most accounts, the Degner campaign’s ground game was impressive (they knocked on my door three separate times, and left a door hanger early Tuesday morning). And they had lots of outside help. Last week, Jeff Mellott reported in the Daily News-Record:
A busload of volunteers from Northern Virginia is expected in the 26th House District today, signaling that the race that concludes in Tuesday’s special election will be fought to the end.The Democratic volunteers will campaign for Harrisonburg Mayor Kai Degner . . .
The Democratic Party of Virginia and the House Democratic Caucus are sponsoring the volunteer bus for Degner, according to an e-mail sent by Del. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon.
But the campaign’s extra efforts resulted in a mere 42-vote lead in the city, and netted only 30 percent district-wide. Now some are wondering whether this red district is winnable under any circumstances, and have questioned the DPVA’s decision to focus on the Valley.
On the blog Not Larry Sabato, Virginia politico and Democratic blogger Ben Tribbett runs the numbers on Tuesday’s two special elections, in which Republicans retained control of open seats in the 26th and 27th (Chesterfield) House districts. Tribbett provides some evidence to support his conclusion that the 26th is “totally un-winnable for Democrats without a miracle.” Tribbett writes:
As you can imagine, most Democratic leaders went into hiding yesterday when the press started sniffing around on this scandalous use of resources after our post this weekend. But one person was willing to go on the record- Party Executive Director Dave Mills- himself very biased, having once run in the 26th District when he was a college student at James Madison.
Mills was quoted in the Washington Post Virginia Politics blog on Monday:
Mills defended the decision today, insisting the party is helping both Degner and Brown but saying that Degner is the kind of candidate who could pull off a surprise win in a low-turnout race. Denger’s [sic] base of support lies in the city of Harrisonburg, the district’s one Democratic-leaning area. He raised considerable money for his own effort and he has built ties to grassroots and elected Democrats around the state.
“There’s no question that, by the numbers, the Chesterfield seat is probably better for us,” Mills said. “But we don’t live in a numbers world.”
He said Degner represents “a new, results orientated, progressive, young person in the city of Harrisonburg” adding “my gut says, he could pull out a surprise.”
Tribbett blasts Mills and the House Democratic Caucus for spending too much money in the “un-winnable” Harrisonburg-Rockingham district, and not enough in Chesterfield, which he argues was winnable. But commenter Glen Tomkins disagreed, supporting the DPVA’s decision to back Degner.
These were both practically unwinnable races for the Ds, period. But the Degner race did have this ray of hope, that an I on the Harrisonburg council, who generally votes R and seems to draw her strength from R voters, was in the race, potentially drawing votes from Wilt. The likelihood of that working, especially in a special, were pretty much gut imponderable, not subject to quantitative analysis . . .
Here are the numbers from SBE dating back to 1995 (there was a redistricting circa 2001, if I’m not mistaken).
1995: Weatherholtz (R) 10,120 vs. Hudson (D) 5,713
1997: Weatherholtz (R) 11,301 vs. Fordney (D) 3,655
1999: Weatherholtz (R) 10,917 (no opponent)
2001: Weatherholtz (R) 11,479 (no opponent)
2003: Weatherholtz (R) 7,108 vs. Fulk (D) 5,923
2005: Lohr (R) 8,545 vs. Fulk 7,353 (D)
2007: Lohr (R) 8,166 vs. Frank (I) 3,269
2009: Lohr (R) 11,328 vs. Hart (D) 4,170
2010: Wilt (R) 6,239 vs. Degner (D) 2,840 vs. Frank (I) 392
Did the DPVA make the best choice? More to the point: is the 26th district winnable for Democrats?