Va. Democrats took a bruising, but state still remains in 'purple' territory

In the 11th District, the incumbent, Connolly (D), holds a slim lead over his GOP challenger. But the Republican's campaign manager says Fimian isn't conceding.
By Ben Pershing and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 10:46 PM

Republicans in Virginia unseated three members of Congress on Tuesday and nearly defeated a fourth, adding a convincing coda to their sweep of the governor's mansion last year.

Democrats lost ground across the state and now hold just three of the state's 11 House seats. In the Washington suburbs, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D) led Oakton businessman Keith Fimian (R) by just 925 votes Wednesday, less than 1 percent of the total, and a recount is possible. In 2008, Connolly won the same matchup by 12 percentage points.

Just two years ago - after President Obama made history by winning Virginia's 13 electoral votes while state Democrats added a senator and three House members - Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declared that his state had "taken a massive step. A mighty, mighty step."

More important, Kaine said at the time, "the gains this year were not a fluke. Everything we did this year prepares for next year."

Yet since that high point in November 2008, Virginia Democrats have steadily ceded power. For all the talk of Virginia turning from red to purple, the GOP will control much of Richmond and the congressional delegation come January.

The question now for both parties is which Virginia will surface in 2012, when Obama and Sen. James Webb (D) are scheduled to be atop the ballot: the diversifying state that pushed Obama to victory in 2008, or the still-conservative one that rejected the president and his allies so decisively this week.

Ascendant again after losing two Senate races and two governor's contests in the past decade, Republicans must decide how they will govern while attempting to extend their gains next cycle.

"We would make a big mistake if we think this election means that Virginia is a red state once again," said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who plans to run for governor in 2013 and could face a primary challenge from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a tea party favorite.

"This is a very purple state," he said. "To win, we need candidates who have the right ideas and the right stands on the issues, but candidates who have the ability to reach out to moderate and independent voters."

Sen. Mark Warner, the last Democrat to be elected statewide, made a similar point.

"I always think these prognostications are overstated - whether the Democrats are up or the Republicans are up," Warner said. "Virginia is a fiscally conservative state which wants to have people who can work together and get stuff done."

In the Hampton Roads region Tuesday, Rep. Glenn Nye (D) swung from a 5-point win over an incumbent two years ago to an 11-point loss against auto dealer Scott Rigell (R). Rep. Tom Perriello (D) lost by a narrower 3 percent to state Sen. Robert Hurt (R), after his party and outside groups pumped more than $3 million into the race to help him. Rep. Rick Boucher (D) was booted from southwest Virginia's 9th District by state House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R) after 28 years, during which he regularly garnered 60 percent of the vote.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company