Close Loss Cheers Republicans

Sharon S. Bulova (D) will become chairman tomorrow.
Sharon S. Bulova (D) will become chairman tomorrow. (By Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)
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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 5, 2009

Even as Republican Pat S. Herrity conceded defeat in Tuesday's special election for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, his strong showing in the Democratic-leaning county sounded an uplifting note among the party loyalists preparing for a year of crucial state and local elections.

Herrity, who garnered about 49 percent of the vote, said his narrow loss to Vice Chairman Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock) proved that the county's consistent support of Democratic candidates over the years does not preclude a Republican from winning.

"From the outset of this campaign we were deemed to be underdogs -- unable to win in a now 'blue' Fairfax County and competing against an incumbent with 21 years on the Board of Supervisors," Herrity wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "We well outperformed expectations, but in the end we fell just short."

Others, however, including Democratic leaders, said a snap election with a low turnout cannot be used to gauge broad political trends.

About 16 percent of the county's 680,000 registered voters cast ballots in the race to succeed Gerald E. Connolly (D), who won a seat in the House of Representatives in November. Bulova beat Herrity by 1,206 of 103,972 votes cast. Lackluster turnout is typical in special elections for local office, and county elections officials said the voting was further overshadowed by the holidays and a historic presidential election.

Fairfax Republicans said the election results give them reasons to be optimistic about November, when they will seek to protect three GOP members of the House of Delegates, wrest a few seats back from Democrats and deliver enough votes to help send state Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell to the governor's mansion.

"We took some good, serious steps to build for November," said Anthony Bedell, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. He noted that Herrity, who will continue to represent the Springfield District, received a majority of votes in four of nine supervisors' districts, including two that are represented by Democrats. He also outperformed Bulova in three House of Delegates districts held by Democrats.

"In November, we got our clocks cleaned," Bedell said. "Three months later, even in a special [election], this was a squeaker. That's good news for Republicans."

Leaders of both parties noted that Republicans turned out in greater proportions than Democrats. But explanations differed. Republicans said residents have grown tired of Fairfax County's high taxes and heavy spending. Democrats said they had trouble rallying young people and minorities for a fast-paced special election.

Election returns show turnout was lowest in the county's most urban locations. The numbers were anemic in Herndon, Lorton Station, Merrifield and Tysons Corner, where thousands of voters who live in rental apartments, townhouses and condominiums have helped drive up Democratic numbers in recent elections.

"What you saw was the minimum strength of the Democratic base in Fairfax County," Connolly said. He said the results provide no clues to November's general election because many more voters are likely to participate.

Meanwhile, election officials in Fairfax began preparing for yet another special election, this time to fill the seat that will vacated by Bulova. Five people have announced plans to run: three Democrats, at-large School Board member Ilryong Moon, Janyce Hedetniemi and Ronald F. Christian; Republican John Cook; and Carey C. Campbell, one of two independents who ran for chairman.

A "firehouse" primary to select the Democrat to run for Bulova's seat is tentatively scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at King's Park Library, and the general election probably will take place March 10.

Bulova is scheduled to be sworn in at 6 p.m. tomorrow, in time to preside over Monday's board meeting. Herrity said he will continue to help better the county from his perch as Springfield District supervisor.

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