Democrats in the Senate tried to hold on to their fragile majority largely by making each of their 22 existing districts more Democratic during this year’s redistricting process.
Republicans had the edge in nearly every other way: They raised millions of additional dollars, recruited more candidates and benefited from an increasingly unpopular Democratic president
and an increasingly popular Republican governor.
“It’s still a map that favors Democrats,” said Phil Cox, McDonnell’s top political adviser. “But Virginians believe the state is moving in the right direction, and running on the governor’s agenda helps.”
Republican had another advantage: more candidates. They fielded 36 Republicans to run in the Senate’s 40 districts, compared with just 28 for the Democrats. The GOP had to persuade one delegate to give up his safe House seat and a senator to move and challenge an incumbent.
Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington), who serves as chairwoman of her caucus, said Democrats never seriously considered recruiting candidates for more than the 22 seats they already control and the pair of new Republican-leaning districts created in redistricting. “It would have been a waste of resources to recruit other candidates,” she said.
In the final weeks before the election, worried Democrats looking to knock off a Republican threw their support behind an independent, pumping more than $200,000 into his campaign. He lost.
Republicans urged their candidates to talk about the economy, Washington and little else — the successful formula McDonnell used in 2009 — and Democrats said they responded to the needs and concerns of the each specific district.
Tom Mills, retired after 23 years of service in the Army, said his anger against Obama led him to vote for every Republican he could find on the ballot at Hayfield Elementary School in Fairfax County. “I think he’s a rampant socialist, if not a communist. Everything he does is against America.”
But former governor Timothy M. Kaine, a former national party chairman who is running for U.S. Senate next year, said Republicans tried to cast the spotlight off their own ineffective policies.
“There’s been a lot of effort to change the subject and take attention away,” he said. “I’m not surprised the other guys want to talk about national issues because I think they are trying to deflect attention from their own policies.”
There is some evidence that the Democrats’ emphasis on the Republicans’ conservative agenda may have helped them hold off some challenges.
“I’m a liberal Democrat, and the conservative trend scares me,” said Gary Buffington, 61, a retired Census Bureau statistician, who was voting with his wife, Mary, at Francis Scott Key Middle School in Franconia. He and his wife voted for Sen. George Barker, hoping not only to keep him in office but also to thwart GOP hopes for a Senate takeover.