Call him Senator O'Brien now. After serving 11 years as a state delegate, Clifton's James K. "Jay" O'Brien (R-40th) scored a victory Tuesday night over Democrat Rosemary Lynch in the 39th District senate race.
He'll fill the senate seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Madison Marye, who resigned in July after the 39th was redistricted up to Northern Virginia. The redistricting meant Marye no longer lived in the area he represented — nor was familiar with its issues. And he didn't want to move.
That cleared the way for a battle between seasoned politician O'Brien and businesswoman Lynch. And in the end, said O'Brien, regardless of people's opinion on the sales-tax referendum — which Lynch supported and he opposed — his win reflected a vote of confidence in him as a political leader.
"Throughout my campaign, I stressed my experience as a legislator and in government service," he said. "I had a higher vote total than the 'no' vote for the referendum [which was defeated], so a lot of people wanted me, personally."
In Fairfax County, the 36,459 people voting in the 39th District cast 54.51 percent of their votes for O'Brien and 45.49 percent for Lynch. However, those numbers only account for 26 of that district's 36 precincts — 10 of which are in Prince William County.
When they're added in, according to the state Board of Elections, O'Brien received 57.1 percent of the overall votes, and Lynch, 42.9 percent. Clearly, said O'Brien, "I reached a broader audience than just those opposed to the referendum."
Lynch believes the referendum's defeat "had a lot to do" with the 39th District outcome. "We knew, if the referendum won, we would win," she said. Still, she added, "I was hoping the numbers would be a little higher."
When she talked to O'Brien, Tuesday night, said Lynch, "He said I surprised him — I made him work real hard." Furthermore, she said she plans to "do it again" — and noted that only one year of Marye's term remains before O'Brien will have to run for re-election.
"I got into this knowing I'd be the underdog and it would be a tough battle, so I'm pleased I did as well as I did," she said. "I got on the map. I think my campaign staff did an excellent job. They were very creative and worked really hard — I couldn't ask for anything more. We did everything we could possibly do."
Stressing that his opponent had never been elected to public office, O'Brien said that, "without a legislative record, she had to hang her hat on the referendum." But, he said, "I refuse to accept that she was a victim of the referendum. She embraced it as her platform by which she was going to win. I opposed the referendum, even in the face of polls showing 65 percent of the public favored it."
O'Brien carried 16 of his Fairfax County precincts, and Lynch, 10, plus the absentee votes. O'Brien was also victorious in the precincts with the most votes. These included Centreville's Newgate precinct, 1,514 votes; Clifton, 1,409; Fairfax Station, 1,160; Fountainhead, 1,100 and Saratoga, 1,096 — which together accounted for more than 6,000 of his 19,873 total votes to Lynch's 16,586 total votes.
He attributed his win to a combination of "my delegate constituents in Clifton and Centreville who knew and trusted me and [my being] very quickly received by new areas of the [39th] District — Prince William County, the Lee District and Springfield — that I'd never met before. They gave me a warm welcome."
Now, said O'Brien, he'll be working on a way to bring the much-needed transportation dollars back to Northern Virginia without a tax increase. And he emphasized that Tuesday's defeat of the tax referendum "wasn't in any way a rejection of the road projects and doesn't mean we're satisfied with the status quo. We have to solve these problems within the framework of the existing budget process. That's what the voters told us."
Acknowledging the efforts of his "great campaign staff and wonderful volunteers who supported him," O'Brien called Tuesday's victories for Republicans nationwide "a great day," recalling 1994 when Republicans took over Congress after the first two years of President Clinton.
"People are saying, 'We like the Republicans, the Party, the president,' and it was reflected in races at the national, state and local levels," said O'Brien. "The Republican message and the Republican candidates are striking a note with the constituents, and I'm proud to be a part of it."
His win leaves his 40th-District delegate seat open, and Clifton's Tim Hugo, 39, a conservative Republican, has already announced his candidacy for it. Delighted with O'Brien's victory, he said it'll be good for this area: "I think he'll be a great senator, and I'm glad he'll be my senator."
O'Brien will also be his honorary campaign chairman. "I've already raised almost $50,000 toward it and, now that the race is on, I'll continue my efforts," said Hugo. "I have a broad base of support from [state Sen. Ken] Cuccinelli [R-37th] to Mike Thompson to O'Brien to [U.S. Rep. Thomas M.] Davis [R-11th]. The party's unified."
A special, 40th-District election will be held in December or January and, said Hugo, "I'm very excited and ready to roll. At the Springfield Hilton [victory party Tuesday night], Jay was the happiest person there. I think I was the second-happiest."
O'Brien, 50, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. He and his wife Sevea run an office-furniture business and are the parents of five children.