For Republicans, There's Still Cause to Be Thankful

COREY A. STEWART
COREY A. STEWART (Rich Lipski - Twp)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pick a Democrat. Pick any Democrat in Virginia. See that look on her face? It's plain old smugness.

That's what winning will do. Having dispatched both Republican Sen. George Allen and former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, Virginia Democrats are feeling their oats.

There's even talk of -- gasp -- taking back the Virginia General Assembly next year. Or at least winning control of the state Senate, where a gain of just four seats would make Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) the new big cheese.

But even as Republicans gather at the Homestead next month for two days of what-went-wrong hand-wringing, they know something that ought to wipe that smug smile off the face of most Democrats: The Nov. 7 election was not all that bad for them.

In fact, putting aside the sucker punch to Allen's political future, there might just be reason to celebrate at the Homestead.

True, putting aside Allen's loss is tough to do. He is the inspiration for the party's modern rebirth, having given Republican activists in the early 1990s a fresh ideology. If Allen can't win, it calls into question everything the party stands for.

But let's look at what went right for the Republicans, and especially for the conservative wing of the party, on Election Day.

Local elections: In two contests in Prince William County this year, both featuring conservative Republicans against moderate Democrats, the Democrats lost.

Corey A. Stewart, a Prince William supervisor from Occoquan who had developed a reputation as the conservative on a board led by moderate Republican Sean T. Connaughton, easily won a countywide contest to replace the departing Connaughton. Score one for Republicans.

In Manassas, where Democrats had hoped a moderate from their party would succeed the late moderate Republican Harry J. Parrish in the House of Delegates, the conservative Republican, Jackson H. Miller, won instead. Score: 2-0.

The amendment: Allen's fight with Democrat James Webb was laden with all sorts of distractions: macaca, the n-word, the Iraq war, President Bush, national scandals and even Allen's Jewish heritage. So how can Webb's victory tell us anything about the basic nature of Virginia voters?

The marriage amendment, however, is different. Asking voters whether to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions was a true test of where the state is on social issues. Their answer: a resounding yes from the right.

The amendment didn't just pass, it soared, with such overwhelming support in most of Virginia that the population powerhouse of Northern Virginia, which opposed it, was irrelevant to the outcome.

When Democrats scoff at the conservative "social agenda," they might be wise to remember this year's vote on Amendment 1.

Score 3 for the conservatives.

Congress: This was supposed to be the year the bums in Congress got thrown out on their ears. Across the country, Republicans in the House got shown the door.

But not in Virginia. Here, every Republican survived and will return to Washington. For some it was no surprise, the challenges from Democrats being mostly token.

But other races were supposed to be more difficult. Democrat Judy Feder raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in an aggressive challenge to Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R). But Wolf won. Democrat Andrew Hurst offered voters a real alternative to Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R), and they chose Davis again.

And most surprisingly, voters in Virginia Beach and Norfolk returned Republican newcomer Thelma D. Drake to office despite a spirited challenge from Democrat Phil Kellam, whose campaign was aided big-time by liberal groups such as MoveOn.org.

In Virginia, it was apparently a good year to be a Republican member of Congress.

Score a bunch more for Republicans.

Allen: Republicans should even find solace in Allen's race. Let's face it, most candidates, in most states, would have been done in by just one of the mishaps to befall his campaign this year.

It is a testament to the basically conservative nature of most Virginia voters that Allen came within about 9,000 votes of winning reelection. Remember, he was the butt of jokes on late-night television for weeks and still persuaded almost half the state's electorate that he was closer to their political views than Webb.

That's good news for him, if he chooses to run for office in Virginia again. And Republicans should hardly despair for the future.


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