Yet as Arlington County Board member Barbara A. Favola (D) and businesswoman Caren Merrick (R) battle for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D), Republicans are gunning for an upset, and Democrats aren’t taking victory for granted.
“The district does lean Democrat, but it’s going to be a tight race,” said Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington), who is backing Favola. “You have one candidate who has unlimited funding available to her and another candidate who has a record to run on. I think that’s the big difference.”
As she did during a hard-fought Democratic primary against lawyer Jaime Areizaga-Soto, Favola has emphasized her long service and familiarity with local issues. Favola said she had knocked on 30,000 doors and feels the campaign is “going very well.”
Merrick, the wealthy co-founder of an enterprise software company and a newcomer to politics, compares her current venture to her past ones.
“Campaigns are like a start-up,” Merrick said, “where you have a lot of goals and you’re building a team constantly and you’re executing a plan . . . and you have an exit.”
In this case, Merrick’s “exit” is Election Day, and she hopes it will lead to Richmond.
‘Side of the momentum’
After a run of strong elections for Democrats, Republicans reversed the tide statewide in 2009 and 2010 and are hoping to cap that run in next month’s legislative races by taking the Senate, which Democrats control 22-18.
Republicans think the wind is still at their backs, even in one of the bluest parts of the state.
“I think it certainly helps Caren Merrick, the environment where there still is more enthusiasm on the Republican side than the Democratic side,” said Mark Kelly, chairman of the Arlington County GOP. “You want to be on the side of the momentum.”
Kelly said Merrick was doing a good job appealing to independent voters by highlighting her efforts to start a business. “That’s experience she has and Barbara Favola doesn’t,” Kelly said.
In her own front-door pitch to voters, Merrick said, “I often tell them that I’m a technology entrepreneur and I’ve created hundreds of jobs.”
What she doesn’t typically say is that she’s a Republican. Merrick hopes that her profile — a political novice and businesswoman — will fit the current anti-establishment mood.
“That has been one of my goals . . . is to explain to them, ‘I am new to this, I bring a depth of experience and I am not a politician,’ ” Merrick said.
Voters across the country may be unhappy with incumbents, but Washington’s close-in suburbs are home to an atypically sophisticated electorate. So Favola and her backers are hoping that broad dissatisfaction with President Obama and Congress won’t trickle down into her race.