McDonnell and GOP Win Virginia: Triple Sweep

Anita Kumar and Rosalind Helderman
Washington Post staff writers
Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 10:00 AM

Virginians elected Republican Robert F. McDonnell the Commonwealth's 71st governor Tuesday, halting a decade of Democratic advances in the critical swing state. The state's former attorney general defeated Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds with a promise to create jobs in the down economy and fix the state's clogged roadways without a tax increase. Victories by two other Republicans completed a GOP sweep of Virginia's statewide races: Bill Bolling kept his post as lieutentant governor and Ken Cuccinelli captured the office of attorney general.

Washington Post staff writers Anita Kumar and Rosalind Helderman were online Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 10 a.m. ET to discuss the election results and the significance of the Republican wins and the Democratic losses.


Anita Kumar: Hello everyone. Roz and I are here to take all your questions about last night's election results. Republicans swept the three statewide races and made significant gains in the House of Delegates. So let's begin!


Lynchburg, Va.: With the election of Ken Cuccinelli (R) to be attorney general and Ken Stolle (R) being elected police deputy in Virginia Beach, do the Democrats have a shot of winning either one or both of these seats to increase there simple majority (21-19) in the State Senate?

Anita Kumar: Yes, there is some chance. There's more of a chance with Sen. Cuccinelli's seat in Fairfax County than Sen. Stolle's seat in Virginia. Sen. Cuccinelli is the last remaining Republican senator in Northern Virginia and his district has been trending blue. But as we can see from last night's results the state and national atmosphere clearly favor Republicans now and the GOP also has a shot during a special election. It's possible, and probable, that Governor-election McDonnell will try to woo a couple Democratic senators to work in his administration and turn the chamber Republican.


Reston, Va.: Will the new governor reopen the rest stops on the highways? He promised to reopen them.

Anita Kumar: Good question. Governor-elect McDonnell did say he would like to re-open them. He has yet to make any statements today and doesn't take office until January. We will be sure to ask him that question. Also, important to note that if he does re-open them he will need to cut other state services or programs. The state is facing a multi-billion shortfall.


Alexandria, VA: Can we please just stop with the analysis that McDonnell's win is somehow a referendum on the president and the Democratic party? It's a reflection that Deeds ran a horrific campaign that not only failed to appeal to independent voters but that turned off his own base. As a Democrat I take nothing away from the governor-elect's win, but Deeds certainly didn't make it hard for him.

Rosalind Helderman: Sorry for joining you all a little late. I had some technical issues. But I'm glad to be with you the day after yesterday's fairly stunning Virginia election.

This question will be one of the central issues to come out of yesterday's election. Was the vote a referendum on Obama? Or was it more about local issues and Deeds being a bad candidate running a poor campaign. It's already clear that Republicans will be saying the former and Democrats the latter. Exit poll data shows that most people said the president played no role in their vote. However, it's undeniable that the national mood--opinions about federal spending and bailouts, executive compensation, the health care debate--played some role. At the same time, the Deeds campaign seems to have gone wrong in many places--failng to appeal to either independents or core Democrats was a central problem.


Woodbridge, Va.: Deeds ran a horrible campaign and deserved to lose. I have been a lifelong Virginia Democrat and had never even heard of Deeds until he won the primary. Even after seeing thousands of commercials on TV I still didn't know anything about him like what is his current job, where is he from, what are his positions on the issues.

Anita Kumar: Hi Woodbridge. Sen. Deeds is from a rural area and is a state senator(and lawyer) representing an area that includes several counties and cities, including Charlottesville. He is obviously known by residents there and some may remember him from when he ran statewide in 2005 for attorney general against Bob McDonnell. (He only lost that race by 360 votes). But many people we have talked to agree with you that they did not know him well and did not know what he stood for. He tried to get that across but many of his opponents and even supporters thought he spent too much time criticizing McDonnell instead of talking about himself.


Warrenton, Va.: I know that the Democrats lost big time in Virginia. However, there still COULD be hope for the Democrats in Virginia. Remember, the state Senate is still controlled by Democrats and with Cuccinelli getting elected attorney general and (Ken) Stolle being elected police chief in Virginia Beach, Do the Democrats have a chance of picking up one or both Senate seats?

Rosalind Helderman: Democrats currently hold the senate by a narrow 1-vote majority. Republicans will almost certainly try to persuade a Democratic senator or two in a tough district to take a job in the McDonnell administration, allowing the party the possibility of taking control of the senate. But, as you note, there will soon be two special elections for senate seats. Both have been held by Republicans, Ken Cuccinelli in Fairfax, now the state's attorney general-elect, and Ken Stolle, the new sheriff of Virginia Beach.

Can Democrats take those seats? Before yesterday, they said they felt good about their chances. But the overwhelming defeat yesterday has to call into question whether a Democrat can win anything in Virginia this year. Given that all of state government and the 2010 redistricting lies in the balance, expect those two races to be ultra well funded and hotly contested.


Centerville, Va.: I feel this vote yesterday in Virginia and N.J. were a direct rejection of Obama and his policies in this country right now.

Rosalind Helderman: Thank you for the perspective. You are certainly not alone.


Boston, Mass.: Is winning elected office during a time of high unemployment and deficits a little like getting the hot potato? It tends to burn those holding it. Have fun governing Virginia and New Jersey -- they are Republican problems now...

Anita Kumar: Governor Kaine has already had to trim billions of dollars in the state budget ($7 billion since 2008) and the next budget will be another tough one for the state. Governor-elect McDonnell will have to make a slew of tough budget decisions and figure out how to pay for any of the proposals he wants. So yes, being governor this next four years will be a very difficult job. I heard many people say during the campaign they wondered why anyone would want it. The same is rue for New Jersey. Most states are struggling with the worst recession since the 1930s and it will be interesting to see what McDonnell tries to do in the next year or two.


Ashburn, Va.: Thanks for taking my question. The WaPo pick Deeds to win the election. Hows dose that look now??

Rosalind Helderman: The Washington Post's editorial board did indeed endorse Deeds for this election. It's not exactly the first time they--or any other newspaper ed board--has backed a candidate who did not win.

_______________________ McDonnell and Deeds mostly mum on how to fund their ideas (Post, Nov. 2)


Fairfax, Va.: When the pre-election polling shows a lead of around 10 percent, and the final margin is nearly twice that, does that imply that people who might have voted for Deeds simply stayed home, figuring that their vote won't count?

Also, given the Republican track record in Virginia, I'm completely expecting the next four years to be a total financial mess, resulting in a Democrat winning the governorship back in 2013. You can't cut taxes when there's already not enough money and expect the state to be better off.

Rosalind Helderman: There were a bunch of pre-election polls that showed the margin somewhere between 10 and 20. Most of the late polls were edging up nears 20. But I do think it seems clear that many potential Deeds supporters stayed home. Exit polling indicated that African-Americans and young people made up relatively small proportions of the electorate. And consider this--McDonnell received more votes than any other gubernatorial candidate in the history of the state. And yet fewer people voted overall this year than in 2005. And less than 40 percent of registered voters came out overall. All of that would seem to indicate lots of Dems did not vote, particularly a lot of the newly registered people who came out for Obama last year.


It's not 2010 either: For what it's worth, none of the winning candidates ran on a right-wing platform, or even particularly emphasized their conservatism (other than your usual no taxes, ever, for anything, rhetoric). Is this not a bellweather for the Republicans too? The only proclaimed "conservative" candidate lost.

Anita Kumar: Today and in the coming weeks and months we will hear both parties talk about what this means going forward into the 2010 mid-term elections. Democrats argue that it doesn't mean much about President Obama or the mood of the country. (Governor Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, downplayed the notion that these races were a referendum on Obama. "These races turned on local and state issues and circumstances and on the candidates in each race - and despite what some will certainly claim - the results are not predictive of the future or reflective of the national mood or political environment," he said.) But there is no denying that many voters said they voted the way they did because of cocern about Obama and the Democratic concerns. You are correct that Bob McDonnell and his runningmates in Virginia did not talk about conservative values. But many Republicans who voted for them still knew they were fiscal and social conservatives. All three have been in public office for years.


To Centreville, Va.: Way to ignore the Democrats' gain of a seat in NY-23, which hasn't voted Democratic in 120 years.

But I'm sure that's not a referendum on Dick Armey and Freedomworks' intervention, right? Of course not.

Rosalind Helderman: This is the counter point. I watched Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the DNC chair, on the Today show and CNN this morning. He turned most questions into a discussion of NY-23. That's the race that dems want to be talking about today.


Arlington, Va.: I'm not sure why this election is such a surprise. I vote Democratic, but Deeds did not seem a good representative of who I would want for governor. Unfortunately to say, he was too country, too dis-engaged from my interests and concerns as a politically and socially aware 28-year-old, and I imagine the same could be said for many more like me. A question for you all: when is the last time there was a governor's candidate that was from Northern Virginia that actually lived in and represented Northern Virginia (when they were elected, not 10-15 years before)?

Rosalind Helderman: Mark Warner hailed from Alexandria and I think he had little trouble convincing Northern Virginia that he understood the place. Interestingly, what that let him do was spend several years before the 2001 election building connections in rural parts of the state where Democrats had been getting killed in the 1990s. He won because he did well in the Washington region but also because he was not swamped in southwest, southside and the Shenandoah Valley.


Downticket Races: So, did the GOP pick up the expected number of House seats, or more than expected? How will the new number of GOP members in the House affect expected state legislation in 2010?

Anita Kumar: It appears that the Republicans gained six seats in the House. There had been talk that they could pick up anywhere from one to five seats so this was a big victory for them last night. The Republicans already had a six-seat majority so this doubles that number and leaves them in a strong position to pass their bills. (Of course, they still need to get the bills through the Democratic controlled Senate.) It's important to note that the Republicans also lost two seats -- one in Northern Virginia and one in Hampton Roads -- though there were specific cicumstances to each of those. One of them was an open seat being vacated by Jeff Frederick. The district has been trending blue for sometime. The other one was held by Phil Hamilton, a longtime member from Newport News, who is under federal investigation.


Henrico, Va.: I know that Deeds won the Democratic nomination against two other Democrats (Moran and McAulife). "IF" either Moran or McAuliffe had won the party nomination, how different would this (gov) race be? (Democrat wins governorship or still losses etc.)

Rosalind Helderman: This is going to be a question that Democrats debate long and hard. And it's ultimately one of those hypotheticals that can never be answered. Would Brian Moran, who had represented Alexandria in the House of Delegates, done better in Northern Virginia? Given that he turned to the left during his primary campaign, would he have been more exciting to Democrats? Maybe. But maybe not. Terry McAuliffe would have brought millions of dollars and his own over the top enthusiastic personality to the race. He'd been doing live interviews for years and would never have had a moment like Deeds' disasterous answer on taxes after the Fairfax chamber debate. And his message, from the start, was an economic one, which seems to be what voters wanted to hear about. Would he have done better? Perhaps. But he would have also brought a lot of Clinton-era baggage with him. A close ally who worked with him on Hillary Clinton's campaign was indicted over the summer for fraud. That would not have helped. McDonnell-McAuliffe would have been an interesting race, that's for sure.


Reopening rest stops?: Is that really a priority for anyone right now? Really? There aren't any better things we can spend money on? I hope that didn't influence anyone's vote.

Anita Kumar: Thanks for your comment. As I said earlier, Bob McDonnell did talk about opening the rest stops during the campaign trail, but it's unclear how a priority it will be now that he has won. We will let you know when we know.


Atlanta, Ga.: If I recall correctly, a recent Post poll had Deeds leading in Northern Virginia by fairly comfortable 56-43 percent margin, yet yesterday, McDonnell won a slight majority there (if you define the region as running east from Loudoun and Prince William Counties). What gives? Also, is anything to be made of the faces that NoVA rejected a good ol boy Republican (Kilgore in 2005) and now a good ol boy Democrat (Deeds)?

Rosalind Helderman: You are right--most pre-election polling, including the Post's, had indicated that Deeds would likely win Northern Virginia--though not by the margins he needed--but lose the rest of the state. I think McDonnell's win in the exurbs--Loudoun and Prince William--was pretty much expected. But his win in Fairfax County was one of the most stunning results of the evening and a sign of just how dominant his victory was. I think you're on to something that will be debated in the wake of this election: Northern Virginia Democrats nominated Deeds in part because they thought his conservative rural ethos would appeal to voters in the rest of the state. They perhaps forgot that it might not appeal to their fellow Northern Virginians.

_______________________ Republicans appear to gain 5 seats, reverse trends in outer D.C. suburbs (Post, Nov. 4)


Washington, D.C.: The GOP picked up several DEM-controlled seats. Specifically shockers in districts 32, 34, 51. What do you attribute these results to? McDonnell coattails?

Anita Kumar: Hi Washington. I attribute much of the Republican gains in the House of Delegates to coattails from Bob McDonnell and his two runningmates. But that doesn't mean there weren't some specific issues in several of the districts, including the ones you mentioned. For example, in district 51, news broke that the incumbent, Paul Nichols, had been arrested several years back. And in district 34, the GOP challenger Barbara Comstock was considered a strong opponent with a lot of money and national Republicans behind her.


Front Royal, Va.: What House of Delegates upset surprised you the most last night?

Rosalind Helderman: There were a lot of fairly suprising results. I'm not sure I thought Shannon Valentine would go down. But perhaps the one that was most surprising to me was a Republican defeat. From everything I had heard, I had thought that Republican Phil Hamilton, a longtime and powerful lawmaker in Newport News, would be reelected, despite that he is under federal investigation for taking a part-time job at a university where he steered state funds. But I'm based in Northern Virginia and hadn't spent a lot of time talking to voters in the district. Clearly, they had other plans for Hamilton, who was defeated by Democrat Robin Abbott.


Referendum: Even Chris Christie said this wasn't a referendum on Obama.

Rosalind Helderman: Thanks for this.


Margins in Exurbs?: I keep hearing the McDonnell won in Fairfax County and Loudon County, but can't find those totals. Is the margin somewhere on the Post Web site? Interactive Governor Map

Anita Kumar: Hi. We have attached our map. You can also check the Virginia State Board of Elections Website. They have a breakdown by county. For Loudoun, they show a 61-39 win for McDonnell and for Fairfax, they show a 51-49 win for McDonnell. Here's that link:


Falls Church, Va.: What's up with the Express not having any election news? How can a morning paper not have yesterday's elections, especially when the results were known so early? Does that paper really go to bed before 7:30 p.m.? The Post must be awfully embarrassed that the Examiner has election results and the Express doesn't.

Rosalind Helderman: The Post has plenty of election results--we're certainly not embarrassed about that! Pages and pages of election results. I'm not sure what the situation was with the Express.

_______________________ Virginia State Board of Elections


Arlington, Va.: McDonnell ran as a Jobs governor. How does he say he is going to get more jobs in the Commonwealth in the next few years?

Anita Kumar: Hi Arlington. Bob McDonnell did run as a "jobs governor."

He said he wants to create tax-free zones for companies involved in producing renewable energy, designate a high-ranking official to focus solely on rural economic development, provide a $1,000 tax credit per job to businesses that create 50 jobs and ask Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to be his jobs czar. You can find a lot more specific information on his campaign Website. Here's that link:

But those were all campaign pledges and in the coming months we will see what he will actually do.


Arlington, Va.: With the GOP victory, can I expect my taxes to go down but without any reduction in services (at least not the services I use)? I don't use the rest stops much, so they can stay closed (and I expect they will). What about privatization of the state liquor stores?

Rosalind Helderman: Maybe I read you wrong, but I'm sensing some tongue in cheek in this answer. But you point to an interesting issue to watch. Like most states, Virginia is facing a very serious budget shortfall. The Republicans were elected on a promise that they would not raise taxes. It will be very interesting to see how they deal with the budget now that they own it--and whether residents will find the cuts they will likely oversee painful.

I would expect some effort to reopen the rest stops--it was an explicit campaign promise and the $9 million the state is saving by keeping them closed can likely be found elsewhere. Also, McDonnell will indeed likely push to privatize state liquor stores. But there's a lot of opposition to the idea in the General Assembly. If it dies there, he can always argue he tried.

_______________________ McDonnell Web Site


Alexandria, Va.: I've found myself looking back at past races in Virginia. I think it's fair to say that Deeds ran a HORRIBLE campaign and set forth few, if any, ideas of his own as he attempted instead to tar and feather McDonnell. Four years ago, Jerry Kilgore ran a terrible campaign in which he tried to focus solely on the death penalty, an issue that (hopefully!) will never affect most voters directly. Back in 1997, Don Beyer entered the race as the presumptive favorite but never recovered from Gilmore's "No Car Tax" campaign; regardless of one's position on the car tax repeal, it's undeniable that it's what got Gilmore elected AND that Beyer never came up with a response to that signature issue as he spent all his time saying why Gilmore's platform was bad rather than advocating ideas of his own. Then back in 1993 Mike Farris ran for lieutenant governor as perhaps the ultimate religious-right candidate and got thumped even as George Allen and Jim Gilmore won the other two statewide races.

Where would you rank the Deeds debacle in the pantheon of bad campaigns?

Rosalind Helderman: Well, I have to look back at the numbers and double check this, but I think McDonnell's margin of victory exceeded even George Allen's over Mary Sue Terry in 1993, which had been considered something of a high water mark for disasterous Democratic campaigns in Virginia. When a candidate loses by this much, it's probably fair to say that a lot of factors were at play. But there's going to be a lot of talk in coming days about flaws in the Deeds' candidacy.


Referendum on Obama: I don't support Obama, and I voted for all four Republican candidates (including House of Delegates), but Obama played no part in my vote and I think it's ludicrous to try to project the 2010 and 2012 elections based on yesterday's results. Recall the mid-1990s: Clinton was elected president in 1992, Allen won Virginia in 1993, the Republicans took Congress in 1994, and then Clinton was re-elected in 1996.

Those of us who oppose him can -HOPE- that Obama isn't re-elected in 2012, but it's absurdly premature to write his obituary now unless you're the guy for CNN who keeps the draft obituaries of famous people in case someone dies suddenly!

Rosalind Helderman: Thank you for this perspective.


Fairfax Station, Va.: What role did the Democratic primary play in using up resources and splitting the Democratic coalition in such a way as dampening enthusiasm for the ticket? The Republicans picked their candidates differently and Bob McDonnell, especially, was able to define his image positively for voters while the Democrats had to raise money and regroup after the primary.

Rosalind Helderman: It definitely played a role. Deeds was the unexpected winner of a tough three-way primary. He had spent months concentrating on nothing but winning over a small pool of Democrats. And he came out of the primary not just broke but a bit in debt. McDonnell had already collected millions at that point. There is no doubt McDonnell's campaign was strengthened when Bill Bolling decided to run for reelection as lieutenant governor and left McDonnell with unified GOP support.


Springfield, Va.: Albo has now defeated Greg Werkheiser twice in two very expensive elections. Will the Democratic party now turn to someone else the next time Dave Albo is up for election?

Anita Kumar: Hi Springfield. I don't think anyone knows yet what the Democratic party will do in two years when Delegate Albo is up for re-election. But you are correct. Albo has defeated Werkheiser twice now. I know many people were surprised by the margin of victory for Albo. He won 57-43. This was supposed to be one of the Democrats best shots to pick up a Republican seat and they didn't come close.


Single Term: Is there any groundswell to remove the ridiculous one-term limit on the Virginia gov?

Anita Kumar: Every year, at least one legislator in the General Assembly proposes allowing a governor to serve more than one term, and every year it fails. Both parties and the current governor would need to agree on how this could be done, and it's unlikely they would do that in the near future.


Chantilly, Va.: I would be interested in the final results of the WP selections for Virginia races, all the races, how many did you pick that won and lost please?

Anita Kumar: I think you are referring to the picks made by our colleagues on the editorial board. Roz and I don't have anything to do with the editorial board and that side of the paper. At quick glance, it looks like about half of their House picks made into office. Their picks for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general did not win.


Sterling, Va.: What does The Post's endorsement of little over 50 precent of the area's winning campaigns say about how in touch The Post is with the interests of its Virginia readership?

Anita Kumar: Thanks for the comment. As I just wrote, Roz and I don't have anything to do with the editorial board or who it picks to endorse. You pose a good question but I don't think we can answer that for them.


Fairfax, Va.: Is there any truth to stories that Sheila Johnson sought commitments from the candidates for state funding to expand the Middleburg sewage and water system to the 5-star resort that she has been trying to get off the ground?

Rosalind Helderman: No, not that I'm aware of. I know that she had a variety of issues she wanted to discuss with the candidates. They included the state's business environment, their opinions on labor unions and particular the federal so-called card-check bill, as well as education. I have been told that she discussed various issues regarding problems she was having getting her inn off the ground in Middleburg but I have no information to suggest she asked for any commitments from the candidates.


Rosalind Helderman: It's been a pleasure everyone. Thank you for reading this morning and for all these past months. Goodbye!


Anita Kumar: Thanks for all your questions today. Please stay tuned in the coming months for our coverage on the transition to a new governor.


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