Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine won last Tuesday’s election in Arlington in convincing fashion, besting the previous performances of Gov. Mark R. Warner and presidential candidate John F. Kerry in the county and exceeding the expectations of his own campaign advisers.
Kaine, who trailed Republican challenger Jerry W. Kilgore statewide for much of the campaign, garnered 72.24 percent of the Arlington vote. Kilgore won 23.92 percent and Independent H. Russell Potts Jr. received only 1.74 percent.
Outside of Arlington, Kaine had a strong showing across Northern Virginia. He received 70 percent of the vote in Alexandria, 60 percent in Fairfax County, 52 percent in Loudoun County and 49 percent in Prince William County.
"I’m just thrilled we are going to have Kaine as governor for the next four years,” said Del. Bob Brink (D-48), who was unchallenged in his bid for a fifth term. “He will continue to expand on the progress we had under Gov. Warner.”
In other Arlington races, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, Del. Al Eisenberg (D-47) and Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49) were all unopposed and coasted to re-election. David Englin (D) defeated Chris Gregerson (R), 72 to 28 percent, to represent the 45th District in the House of Delegates. Ed Fendley won the race for Arlington School Board, defeating Republican Bill Barker and Independent Cecelia Espenoza (see story below).
A total of 57,200 Arlington residents participated in the election, a record for a gubernatorial year. 50.3 percent of active registered voters cast ballots. In 2001 turnout was 49 percent and 48.7 percent in 1997.
“We certainly had a record turnout, as expected,” said Arlington Treasurer Frank O’Leary. “It was a real response to renewed interest in the office of governor.”
Though Kaine was expected to easily carry the county, he surpassed his campaign’s stated goals, advisers said. The Kaine campaign hoped he would receive 41,420 votes in the county or approximately 70 percent of the votes, O’Leary said. He finished with 42,305.
Kaine’s 74 percent of the vote was an increase over the 67.5 percent of the vote Kerry won last year and Warner received in 2001.
“It was quite an impressive performance,” said Chris Zimmerman, the county board’s vice-chairman. “But of course Kaine did amazing all over Northern Virginia.”
ANALYSTS AND POLITICIANS in both parties said Kaine’s overwhelming victory was due to a confluence of factors, including his centrist message on bread-and butter issues that resonated with suburban voters, the popularity of the Warner Administration, the backlash against Kilgore’s negative campaign ads and the Republicans’ troubles on the other side of the Potomac River.
Kaine’s focus on issues such as education, development and transportation helped swing independents and suburban voters, analysts said.
“Our whole campaign message was designed to speak to concerns communities like Arlington are dealing with on a daily basis,” said Pete Brodnitz, a strategist and pollster for Kaine, and Arlington resident. “We made it a major focus of our campaign.”
Kilgore’s adamant desire to widen I-66 drained support from independents in the county and “hurt him more than anybody anticipated,” said Bill Lockhart, chairman of the Arlington County Republican Committee.
Unlike Republicans in past gubernatorial races, Kilgore could not find a single, big issue to run on. Without a major issue that attracted voters from across the political spectrum, like former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore’s promise to end the car tax, many independents tuned out Kilgore’s message, said Rob Williams, who was handing out Republican flyers at the Ashton Heights precinct.
The lack of a unifying position meant he spent most of his campaign attacking Kaine’s record and cobbling together a piece-meal platform, Democrats said.
The slew of negative campaign ads from the Kilgore camp galvanized the Democratic base and persuaded many swing voters to go for Kaine, Brink said. The most controversial of the ads featured Arlington resident Stanley Rosenbluth, stating that Kaine would not even impose the death penalty on Hitler.
“That ad might have worked well in the south of the state but in Northern Virginia people were angered by it,” O’Leary said. “I know Republicans who have never voted for Democrats before but voted for Kaine” because of the Hitler ad.
Several Democratic strategists said the commercial was the turning point in the race, as undecided voters thought the ads had gone to far.
“The drop off in votes in Arlington from [Lt. Gov. Bill] Bolling to Kilgore gives you an indication of how many people who were strong Republicans rejected their gubernatorial candidate,” Zimmerman said. “Negative campaigning may be successful in some places, but not in Arlington.”
BOTH REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS cited the strong popularity of Gov. Warner, barred from running for a second term, as a major reason for Kaine’s large-margin of victory.
“A lot of people are happy with the job Warner has done and they voted to continue that,” said Lockhart, chairman of the county’s Republican Committee.
A lingering debate is how much Republican troubles in Washington played into voter dissatisfaction with Kilgore. President Bush, suffering from the lowest approval ratings of his presidency in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Harriet Miers nomination and Plame-CIA leak, injected himself in the race with a campaign rally on the eve of the election.
Dave Albo (R-42), who was re-elected in a tight contest over Democratic challenger Gregory Werkheiser, said Bush’s slumping approval rating hurt the GOP in Virginia.
“It’s impossible to run and win [an open seat] when Bush’s approval is at 37 percent,” he said after the election.
But in an interview just before the election, Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the gubernatorial race would not be a referendum on the president because Virginia voters care more about local issues than what is going on in Washington.
Arlington Democratic leaders said it was impossible to think that voters were not influenced by what was happening across the river.
“Folks in Arlington are happy with the direction the state is going and unhappy with the way the federal government is headed,” Brink said. “Put them together and you have a mighty victory for the Democrats.
The question for politicians on both sides of the aisle is whether this is a reflection of a temporary shift in mood away from Republicans or if it portends a more permanent change in voting patterns in Northern Virginia.
As Zimmerman puts it: “Is Arlington becoming more progressive or has the Republican party moved further to the right and marching away from where most Northern Virginians are?”