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Votes

Vienna and Oakton Vote Both Ways

Citizens elect a Republican and a Democrat to lead them in the General Assembly.

As the dust settles from last week's election, the results reflect the unpredictable nature of voters in Northern Virginia: Vienna and Oakton have a Republican state senator and a Democratic delegate.

Although many observers considered Del. Jeannemarie Devolites (R-35th) to be a shoe-in for the state Senate seat representing the 34th District, the margin between her and her opponent, Democrat Ronald F. "Ron" Christian, was much closer than many had anticipated. Devolites won 53 percent of the 37,741 votes cast within the Fairfax County portion of her district, while Christian got 47 percent.

The Oakton precincts of Oakton, Oak Marr, Vale and Waples Mill favored Devolites over Christian, with Devolites receiving an average of 226 votes in those precincts. Devolites also fared well in the precincts of Westbriar, Wolftrap, Shouse and Colvin Run in the Vienna area.

The precincts Christian had won were primarily in the Fairfax area, although he gained precincts in other areas such as Stenwood and Thoreau in Vienna and Sunrise Valley in Reston.

Voters in Vienna generally favored Devolites, giving Devolites a roughly 120-vote lead, but the race was close: Devolites won the Vienna #2 precinct (Vienna Community Center) by only one vote, and lost Vienna #6 (James Madison High School) by 70 votes.

Devolites credited the Democrats' final push in fund-raising, as well as their ability to work well together, during the last days coming up to the election.

"With that influx [of money] ... that certainly is going to have a negative effect on Republican candidates," Devolites said.

Meanwhile, Christian attributed the closer margin to the grassroots support his campaign received.

"I think, clearly, it was not a run-away [election]," said Christian. "This was the people's campaign. We had volunteers coming from all over at the end."

Indeed, grassroots efforts played key roles in the campaigns to replace Devolites in the 35th District House of Delegates seat, according to both Del.-elect Stephen C. "Steve" Shannon (D) and Republican candidate Robert McDowell. It was an open seat, and both parties had contributed a total of almost $485,000 to the race, which each perceived as vulnerable to either party.

The Oakton and Vienna area precincts of Oakton, Oak Marr, Vale, Westbriar and Wolftrap voted for McDowell, while the remaining nine precincts in Vienna and the surrounding Vienna and Fairfax area voted for Shannon.

"I wish that I had spent more time in a couple of precincts," said Shannon. "Next time around, I'll start walking earlier."

He continued, "And I found what really made the difference was our grass roots."

Although defeated, McDowell also considered grass roots a factor in keeping the margins of his race close.

"We far outperformed the rest of the Republican ticket," McDowell said.

When asked about what brought about his loss, McDowell also hinted at the Democrats' ability to pull together. McDowell lost to Shannon 48 percent to 52 percent, with 17,628 citizens voting.

"The closeness of the race reveals that we got caught in the down drift of the Mychele Brickner loss," McDowell said, alluding to the race for the chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors between School Board member Brickner (R) and Providence District supervisor Gerry Connolly (D). "Gerry Connolly's coattails helped Steve tremendously. It's not our political message, but the general prevailing political winds."

While the race started off amicably between the two candidates, it grew less friendly with perceived misquotations and rumors of threats.

"I think polling data indicated that our message was working, so the strategy was to take us off-message," Shannon said.

One quarrel resulted when Shannon quoted in campaign literature an excerpt from a letter he had received from Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th), congratulating Shannon on his volunteer efforts and on receiving the Lord Fairfax award by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Shannon said he thought the quotation was an effective response to accusations that he had not lived in the district long enough to represent it.

McDowell, however, thought the quotation was misleading. A press release was sent out by Davis asking Shannon for a retraction in implying that Davis had endorsed Shannon.

"Steve tried hard to mislead the voters in thinking Tom Davis had endorsed him," McDowell said. "I think he tried hard to run as a Republican."

Yet McDowell added that the spat didn't affect the outcome of the race.

"It was word for word," said Shannon campaign manager Beth Tomek. "I don't feel it was taken out of context at all."

In response to the negative campaign literature against Shannon, Shannon said, "I've seen a lot worse, and I didn't take it personally."

Now that the race is over, Shannon said he's intent on building bridges with Republicans in the 35th District and the General Assembly.

"I want to focus on building relationships with both Republicans and Democrats, so that I can best serve the 35th District," Shannon said.