Is the 26th Winnable For Dems?

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?

Tags: , , ,

18 Responses to “Is the 26th Winnable For Dems?”

  1. Young Dem says:

    I’m tired of all media outlets looking at the VA 26 special election getting the fund raising amount wrong. I understand that Harrisonburg reporters don’t have that much experience, but even the Washington Post has made the same mistake. How hard is it to look at VPAP and see that the Degner campaign gave X amount to the House caucus for “campaign services” and DPVA gave the same amount to the campaign for in-kinded mail? Candidates do it to receive the non-profit bulk mail rate. This is especially easy when VPAP tells you that “campaign services” is usually a codeword for this practice. Kai Degner only had a little bit more than $10K donated from House and Senate Caucus members. All of Tony Wilt’s mail, his paid canvass, and some of his actual staff came from RPVA. Degner raised and spent his money on mail and staff. Wilt had his given to him.

    Also Ben Tribbett is an idiot.

    • Young Dem,

      I have never been privy to the inner-workings and finances of a political campaign, and was not aware of that. Can you explain it further?

      If a campaign runs most of its money through the House Caucus, how/where can you find the “true” amount that the DPVA gave to the Degner campaign?

      Also, instead of just saying “Ben Tribbett is an idiot,” can you explain what it is about what he said that you disagree with, and support your claim?

      • Young Dem says:

        On VPAP click “Money In”, then click itemized cash contributions. Kai Degner’s largest donor was money from Gene Hart, from his left over campaign account.

        Money Out tab is expenses, click expenditures by vendor for a list, then click on the $ link to see details. VPAP is not totally up to date since the last report, as can be seen by the difference between contributions made and expenses by vendor. In the final version, they should be similar.

        I know paraphrased VPAP in my earlier post about campaign services. I think I read it when the campaigns first release their reports. I don’t know where it is now. But I am correct.

        • I’m beginning to understand it now, but it’s still a bit confusing.

          According to Wilt’s itemized cash contributions, RPV gave him no money at all — it mostly came from PACs and other politicians.

          • MF says:

            I have to agree with Young Dem, Tribbett is an idiot. Most of his political musings are based on vendettas he has against various political figures in the state. Mills is one of the guys he has in his cross hairs currently.

          • Young Dem says:

            After reading today’s DNR, I reiterate my point. I would call them but I think they wouldn’t care. They only care about what looks interesting, not what is fact. At least in the future hopefully hburgnews will do more justice to the art and skill of reporting now that you have more info on how to search VPAP. I am not so sure about the DNR.

  2. Renee says:

    “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.”

    So basically Thomkins’ analysis is that Kai would’ve had a better chance had Carolyn run a better campaign?

  3. Erik Kimsey says:

    First, Nice post, Brent. Thanks. Second, where can i find final vote numbers from yesterday for the county alone? While obviously not something Dems can rely on yet, the county has changed quite a bit since early 2000s. The demographics, it seems, are much more varied than i can remember as a kid. Third, was yesterday so special that less people wanted to go vote?

  4. Jim Purcell says:

    To answer the main question of the story—–NO! The 26th District is NOT winnable for the Democrats.

    • I’ve been thinking about the question all day, and came up with one unlikely, hypothetical scenario in which the Dems could have won.

      If Virginia was like most states, we would only have elections every other November, not every year, causing voter fatigue. Imagine that: an entire summer and fall season with no campaigning, no election. How wonderful would that be?

      If we had voted for delegate in 2008, and if a perceived moderate from the county had run down-ballot from business-friendly centrist Mark Warner, who beat Gilmore 57 to 41 in our district, then the local Dems might have pulled it off for one term.

      But given that Virginia’s election cycle will never align with the federal elections, I tend to agree with you.

      • Renee says:

        That’s a really good point, Brent. Election fatigue causes a kind of numbing to politics in general, making people vote the same party they’ve always voted, regardless of any current pressing issues.

  5. cook says:

    Until the 26th is redistricted, the Democrats only hope is to find a candidate who can compete in the County. I think an ideal candidate would be already well-known and well-liked outside of politics, moderate-to-conservative, with all the “local boy” (or, more preferable, “local hero”) credentials. And, somehow – probably outside the candidate’s immediate control – the campaign must be focused on a local issue, not the standard litany of left/right hot-button issues, where the GOP promises to do nothing and the Democratic candidate has passion and a plan.

  6. Joe says:

    It certainly is winnable for Dems if they have the right person running.

  7. Lowell Fulk has indeed come close to winning in the past.

  8. Mom3 says:

    Anyone can spin all they want, but what it comes down to is a closed minded point of view that cares nothing about trashing the valley, and treats political parties like sports teams. It’s the voters with such deeply entrenched ignorance that are the problem, and as long as they use voting as a way to feel better about themselves nothing will change.

  9. Joshua says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I really don’t think a Democratic candidate can win in the 26th. Although I haven’t backtracked the history, I’ve heard that the Democrats haven’t won here since the flood of 1985. The mayor seemed like a pretty good candidate and ran a pretty good campaign, but, at the end of the day, the election was not even close. Sure he won Harrisonburg, like Democrats have done before, but the reliable voting base in the county makes victory for the Democratic Party an impossibility.

Reader Tweets

Latest Flickr photos in the hburgnews Flickr pool
Announcements & Press Releases
  • Friendly City Grand Opening Set for July 9

    Friendly City Food Co-Op, Harrisonburg’s consumer-owned grocery, invites the community to come see its new destination for natural, organic and locally-produced products at the store’s grand opening 11 a.m.-5 p.m. July 9 at 150 East Wolfe Street.

  • Friendly City Becomes Member of National Cooperative Grocers Association

    HARRISONBURG, VA — Friendly City Food Co-op, slated to open this month in Harrisonburg, Va., has become the newest member of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a business services cooperative serving 120 consumer-owned food co-ops nationwide.

  • Harrisonburg Recognized as a Bike Friendly Community

    May 2: Harrisonburg was honored when the League of American Bicyclists announced the latest round of Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designations over the weekend to kick off May as National Bike Month.