Gathered around four television screens at the Springfield American Legion Post Tuesday night, Republicans watched as their hopes to unseat Democrats at both the district and state levels faded with early returns.
Vigorous challenges had been mounted against Mount Vernon District supervisor Gerald W. "Gerry" Hyland; state Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36th); and state Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-44th). In each case, the incumbent was successful, with the closest race being between Puller and Republican Christian M. Braunlich.
Early in the day, Braunlich, voting at Hayfield Elementary School, was upbeat, saying, "I believe I have a good chance."
That proved to be more than just the normal candidate rhetoric, as he remained within striking distance of unseating Puller even as other Republicans came to the stage to deliver their concession speeches.
At the other end of the spectrum was the race between Hyland, a 16-year incumbent, and his GOP opponent Purvis L. Dawson Jr., a former Fairfax County police officer. By 10 p.m., the vote spread was 66 percent for Hyland compared with 33 percent for Dawson.
"I wish Gerry the best over the next four years," Dawson said, standing among supporters with his wife. "But, I was born and raised in this county [Fairfax], and I'll be back."
He added, "I'm definitely going to run again in four years. I knocked on 11,000 doors this time, and I was getting a very good response from the community. I feel that we ran a good campaign, but it's difficult to run against a 16-year incumbent."
DAWSON ALSO attributed his loss to the emotions surrounding the potential closing of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Isabel. "These were two incidents where Gerry was very much out front, and we just couldn't overcome that," he said.
Fort Hunt area resident David B. Kennedy, who challenged Amundson for her General Assembly seat, took a more wait-and-see attitude when it came to his future political plans.
"I'm going to let the dust settle on this one and then make an assessment," he said. "But I feel very good about what we accomplished. You get a chance to focus on what the people really want and what they feel is important. It's a great experience."
KENNEDY DID EXPRESS displeasure with a late campaign tactic of Amundson, where a flier was circulated showing Kennedy's head superimposed on another body with a sign reading "Transportation Expert."
"I didn't necessarily say nice things about her, but at least I stuck to the facts and issues and didn't resort to gimmicks. She has not had any major initiatives passed in the General Assembly, and she hasn't done anything about the transportation situation. I've spent more than 20 years in the airline industry. I feel I do have knowledge about transportation," Kennedy said.
Kennedy was joined at GOP election night headquarters by his wife, Jenny, and his in-laws, Patricia and Don Tambini. They had just traveled from their home in Southern California to share the event.
"We're having fun, and we worked very hard today greeting voters and traveling from one polling place to another. We got a very good reception from the voters," Patricia Tambini said.
Jenny Kennedy said, "My husband has worked very hard, but it's also been very rewarding." That was echoed by her father, Don Tambini. "This has been totally exciting. He's [Kennedy] a very hard-working young guy with great ideas," he said.
The Tambinis almost didn't make the trip due to the wildfires raging in their area. Although their home was not damaged, they said that hot ashes and coals did land on their patio from the nearby blazes. "The air was so filled with smoke and ash you could hardly breathe," Don Tambini said.
THE FOUR TELEVISION screens went blank as the crowd concentrated on returns being broadcast. That's when Mychele B. Brickner, who had challenged Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence) for the chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, made her way from the candidate holding area to the stage.
Throwing down more of a continuing challenge than making a concession speech, Brickner urged her fellow Republicans, "I hope you will keep their [Democrats] feet to the fire and make them control spending. I urge you all to stay active and vigilant."
She then conceded, "Fairfax County will move on and do what needs to be done." Brickner thanked the crowd for "working so hard throughout this race. I'm so proud to have been able to represent each of you."
Following her recognition of Connolly's victory, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11th), responded. "She ran a very good race. But they [Democrats] have the money and the organization."
Before being elected to Congress, Davis served as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
The crowd also had to endure the concession speech of state Del. Thomas M. Bolvin (R-43rd), just elected four years ago. He lost to Democrat Mark D. Sickles. Bolvin recognized all those who had worked on his behalf, including his staff "who have worked so hard for me over these last four years."