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Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 2 p.m. ET

Virginia Politics

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Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tim Craig was online Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 2 p.m. to discuss the results of the Virginia elections for state Senate and House of Delegates, as well as other local races.

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A transcript follows.

Voters Guide: Local Elections 2007

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Tim Craig: Good afternoon. Happy to answer as many questions as I can. It was a late night for us scribes. But hopefully everyone is enjoying the coverage.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: How do the results of the Virginia election influence how to frame or focus the debate on illegal immigration in the national elections next year? Would the Republican National Committee read different messages from the results than the Democratic National Committee?

Tim Craig: Virginia's election showed immigration plays out very differently depending on the location. In Prince William County, an outer suburb 40 minutes south of the District, illegal immigration appears to have driven voters out to the polls to support the GOP. Earlier this year, Democrats had hoped to pick up several House seats in that county, but ended up narrowly winning just one. But in Loudoun County, another suburb, growth and frustration with conservative Republicans trumped immigration as a top concern. Immigration also appeared to be somewhat of a dud for the GOP in Democratic-leaning Fairfax. But I would caution not to read too much into yesterday's results. Clearly, illegal immigration riles up the GOP base, particularly in middle class neighborhoods that have seen an influx of immigrants searching for affordable housing and jobs. If the GOP didn't have the issue this year, they may have lost a lot more House and Senate seats.

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Fairfax, Va.: Now that the elections are over, the candidates and their teams are going to be removing the zillion eye-sore signs they've littered all over the medians of most of our roads, correct?

Tim Craig: Hopefully. I think most localities have laws requiring candidates to remove signs within a designated period after an election.

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Reston, Va.: Except for Prince Willian County, it looks like immigration was pretty much a non-issue. Do you think the GOP will continue to focus on this as we prepare for the larger stage of 2008?

Tim Craig: I do think the GOP will continue to focus on immigration. While it may have limited appeal with moderates in many communities, I think it helps to energize the base of the party. And as President Bush proved in 2000 and 2004, a base versus base strategy sometimes can work.

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Vienna, Va.: What does this mean for the redistricting process after the 2010 census?

Tim Craig: It means Democrats are at least guaranteed a seat at the table during redistricting. If the GOP had kept control of the Senate, Democrats would have had to either win the 2009 governor's race or the House of Delegates in 2009 to have a say in redistricting. (Va Senate is up every four years; House of Delegates every two). Now, both parties will play a role, which usually means status quo. But you never know, maybe the Democrats will win the governor's race and retake the House in 2009 and have complete control to redraw the lines.

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Arlington, Va.: So with the new Dems in the state legislature, are we going to get a smoking ban anytime soon?

Tim Craig: Good question. Last year, the GOP-Senate approved a smoking ban, but it was defeated in the House of Delegates. While Democrats picked up four House seats yesterday, that chamber is still dominated by conservatives. And many rural lawmakers are uneasy about supporting a smoking ban. In fact, some GOP strategists say Republican Sen. Brandon Bell of Roanoke was defeated in the June because he was the prime sponsor of the smoking ban. My prediction: no ban in 2008, but its only a matter of time.

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Anonymous: Do you think that Devolites-Davis' loss will result in Tom Davis deciding not to run for re-election? He spent a small fortune from his campaign war chest to help her out, to no avail. It really looks like the district has become solidly Democratic.

Tim Craig: I think Davis could still run for reelection. It's true he spent half of his campaign account on his wife's losing race. He also knows its now undeniable that Fairfax is trending Democratic. But Davis will be under pressure from the House GOP leadership to run for reelection. I think its safe to assume he would remain favored to hold that seat for the GOP, although he will face a tough race. But I imagine his decision will rest on what is best for him and his family.

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Alexandria, Va.: Any update on the Cuccinelli/Olezcek recount possibilities?

Tim Craig: You can follow the updates about the possible recount at blog.washingtonpost.com/virginiapolitics. I posted a few earlier today

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Washington, DC: I guess there probably isn't much exit polling for these state races but I would be interested if you had any insight about whether the GOP immigration rhetoric may have helped to stem their losses in swing districts.

Tim Craig: Lots of immigration questions. I think immigration has slowed Democrats' hopes of expanding into the outer suburbs. But I don't think its playing well in the inner suburbs or Fairfax. (Immigration was an issue in Republican Baise's campaign against Fairfax County Board Chairman Connolly. But Connolly won with nearly 60 percent of the vote)... There also isn't much evidence that immigration was a big factor in Hampton Roads, where the GOP lost two House and two Senate seats. My early analysis: in a statewide race, immigration helps the GOP in some of the rapidly growing areas of the state. That's the good news. The bad news is many of those new residents are minorities, so it's only a matter of time before the issue could backfire. Short-term gains may mean long-term consequences.

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Alexandria, Va.: So what becomes of the Driver Abuse Fees? Has anybody proposed changes or abolishing them? I see Albo won (too bad), but what became of his co-sponsor?

Tim Craig: It's hard to tell how many people were brought out because of the abuser fees. But it's safe to say it was far less than the 177,000 who signed that petition this summer saying they would turnout. The fact only one incumbent House Republican lost (Democrats also picked up three open seats) shows abuser fees may not have been the issue it was thought to have been. Also, Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax, one the sponsors of the fees, won by 5 percentage points. But the abuser fees hurt the GOP, regardless. GOP candidates had hoped to campaign this fall on their transportation plan. But because of the unpopular fees, most candidates couldn't take credit for raising money to fix roads. As for Dave Albo (R-Fairfax), he was running unopposed. But 12 percent of the electorate in that district wrote in a candidate instead of voting for him. Albo will be a top Democratic target in 2009.

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Clifton, Va.: With the state trending toward Blue, and the Dems fielding Mark Warner to run for Senate, what possible strategy can Gilmore pursue to win?

Tim Craig: Gilmore strategy may be able to be summed up in two words: "Hillary Clinton." (But polls show Clinton is no more polarizing in Virginia than other Democratic or Republican candidate). Gilmore will also try to paint Warner as a liberal, who raised taxes, wants to weaken the military and is out of step with voters on social issues. It almost sounds like Terry Kilgore's campaign against Tim Kaine in 2005. We know how that ended up. Warner remains a favorite, but expect the race to tighten considerably next year. And, yes, it's still possible Hillary Clinton (or whoever the Democratic nominee is) will be a drag on Warner. But it's also possible Warner could remain popular enough that he creates an up-ballot effect where he wins votes for the Democratic presidential nominee.

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Vienna, Va.: Besides redistricting, what changes can we expect? Or are we in for two more years of rhetoric and status quo?

Tim Craig: To be honest, gridlock. House Republicans remain conservative. Senate will be controlled by moderates, both Democrats and Republicans. Kaine may act either a moderate or a progressive, depending on the issue. And very little will get done. I could be wrong. Last year, at this time, I wouldn't have bet that the House and Senate and Kaine would all agree on a transportation plan. But because some of the conservative House members felt burned after they supported the transportation plan - which included the unpopular abuser fees - I suspect they will be less likely to compromise in the future.

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Arlington, Va.: Will it take a major scandal to get someone other than a Democrat elected to the Arlington County Board -- even an independent? The signs of arrogance are mounting, from the pontifications on the "world class" community and "first-rate" school system (in their eyes only) to the refusals to answer straightforward questions and obvious mistakes to the stonewalling on serious quality-of-life issues. I'm waiting for a procurement scandal on one of their capital projects to surface.

Tim Craig: I have not been covering theseraces closely. Someone else wrote in saying a Republican had been elected to the Board this year. I will see if I can figure this out and get back to you. But to get to your question, I think a Republican can get elected to the board but they may first have to find a way to hide they are a Republican.

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Winchester, Va.: There seems to be a definite sea change in Virginia politics: Jim Webb, Tim Kaine, and now the entire Senate going Democratic. Do you attribute it to the war, the President or something else?

Tim Craig: I think a lot of it has to do with is demographics. Much of Virginia is not changing that much. Outside of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, its a solidly Red state. George Allen actually increased his vote margins in many rural counties in 2006. But as Northern Virginia becomes more diverse, its attitudes about a host of issues - guns, gays, social issues, taxes - are shifting as well. But I do think Bush and the war have helped accelerate the trend. I also think Republicans will stage a comeback, perhaps as early as the 2009 governor's race. But they need to find a leader and a message that appeals to the growing parts of the state.

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Washington, D.C.: Is Gov. Kaine any more likely to make progress on his major initiatives, such as targeted prekindergarten expansion, given the Republicans still control the House and the state's fiscal picture remains tough?

Tim Craig: Talked to Kaine earlier today. He thinks his chance for winning passage of pre-K improved after yesterday's vote. But he still has to convince the GOP-controlled House of Delegates. It will be interesting to see whether Kaine looks to bargain with House to get it approved or whether he launches another campaign to gin up public support to force the House to act.

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Ballston: Tim:

Overall, how was the voter turnout this year compared to years past? I know that in 2003 something like 26 percent of eligible voters actually voted, did the possibility of one or both legislative bodies changing hands bring more voters out this year?

Tim Craig: In 2003, the last year the House and Senate were both on the ballot, 31 percent of voters showed up at the polls. I have not seen the statewide figure for this year yet.

But I found this interesting: In the three hotly contested races in Fairfax County, turnout was 39 percent in the race between Democrat J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen and Republican Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis. In the race between Democrat George Barker and GOP Sen. Jay O'Brien, the turnout was 34 percent Petersen won by 5,000 votes. Barker won by 800 votes.

But in the race between Democrat Oleszek and GOP Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, the turnout was only 32 percent. Cuccinelli is ahead by 94 votes, pending a possible recount. This suggests that, when turnout got above 30 percent in Fairfax County, it were Democrats who were showing up at the polls. If Oleszek could have convinced just a few hundred more people to vote, she probably would have won.

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Tim Craig: Ok. That is all the time I have. If you have any more questions, you can email me at craigt@washpost.com. Also check out our Virginia Politics blog at blog.washingtonpost.com/virginiapolitics

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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