August 8, 2002
Chalking it up to the sales-tax issue, hardworking volunteers and residual resentment over a school-boundary issue, Centreville's Ken Cuccinelli scored a decisive victory Tuesday night over Springfield's
Cathy Belter in the 37th District Senate race.
"We proved that you can win a conservative, grassroots race in Fairfax County against big money with a lot of star power," he said, referring to Gov. Mark Warner's support for Democrat Belter. "And it was a mighty blow to the sales-tax referendum."
Republican Cuccinelli, 34, is staunchly against raising money this way for transportation improvements, and he said there's "no question, the sales tax played a major role" in his win. He said many people casting their ballots for him believe "they're already paying enough money."
Both candidates said the 16.4-percent voter turnout in this contest for former Sen. Warren Barry's seat was slightly higher than they'd expected. Of 111,236 registered voters in the 37th, 18,234 went to the polls. That included 1,001 absentee voters who gave Cuccinelli 655 — 65.4 percent — of their votes.
Sweeping 29 of the 37 precincts, he garnered 10,041 votes, or 55 percent, to Belter's 8,193 votes, or almost 45 percent. Although Belter, 57, did well in her own territory — especially in the Bonnie Brae and Burke Centre precincts — she was no match for patent-attorney Cuccinelli in the heavily Republican Sully District.
His strongest precincts were Willow Springs, Chantilly, Dulles, Virginia Run, Deer Park, Popes Head, Fair Lakes, Bull Run and Trinity. He attributed his victories in Willow Springs and Popes Head to the Liberty Middle School boundary dispute; county School Board member Belter said students in those areas couldn't attend the new school.
Cuccinelli said his pro-life beliefs also "motivated a lot of people" to select him. And when results were in from all but seven precincts, he knew he'd won. He believes announcing his candidacy back in January gave him an advantage: "We ran a 9 1/2-month campaign; my opponent ran an 8-week campaign."
He also contends that Barry's endorsement of Belter helped him, instead, because so many Republicans "had had it with Barry helping Democrats." But mostly, said Cuccinelli, "The campaign was won on solid issues and the grassroots efforts of more than 200 volunteers — they were the reason we won."
Belter called and congratulated Cuccinelli as soon as she realized the numbers weren't going her way. She said his side did a better job than hers of courting the absentee vote — which helped him a great deal.
And she agreed that the sales-tax referendum — which she supports — was a big factor in the outcome. As the campaign wore on, she said, "We started to hear more from people who didn't want the sales-tax increase. Actually, it's an irony, because people still want services from the state."
Belter also believes that voter support from home-schoolers, like Cuccinelli, as well as church members favoring his anti-abortion views, also helped turn the tide his way. She said he placed "negative fliers" about her on cars in church parking lots, but Cuccinelli said Belter sent out "teams" of people to snatch them away "in an attempt to suppress voter turnout."
Meanwhile, she said she has no regrets, at all, about running: "It was a lot of work, but also energizing. I met a lot of good people who supported me, and I'm not a loser because I'm still holding my seat [as Springfield District representative] on the School Board. I thank everybody who was part of this campaign. And who knows? I may even try again."