Democrat George Barker will challenge incumbent Jay O'Brien (R) for the state's 39th District Senate seat in November. Barker won Tuesday's Democratic primary against Greg Galligan by 2,585 votes to Galligan's 1,641, or 61 percent to 38 percent.
"Where I focused my campaign, we did very, very well," Barker said at his post-primary party Tuesday night, June 12.
Galligan won a number of precincts, particularly on his home turf in the Lee District, but none of these precincts saw high voter turnout. Many generated a total vote tally only in the double digits. Meanwhile, the four precincts in which Barker spent the most time campaigning — his home precinct of Clifton, the neighboring Newgate and Fairfax Station precincts, and Greenspring in the Lee District — voter turnout was high, and he won in landslide victories. In Clifton, Barker won 288 votes to Galligan's 18.
"In areas that were his base, he won like they were his base," said Galligan, after conceding defeat at about 8:45 that evening.
Barker also credited his campaign with mobilizing high voter turnout in areas where it was focused. "The numbers are very promising," he said, looking ahead to his race with O'Brien.
THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY between Morris Meyer and Rex Simmons for the House of Delegates 40th District seat may also have helped draw voters to the polls in Clifton, Newgate and Fairfax Station. And at least one of the precincts that Barker made his stomping ground has always generated higher voter turnout. The Greenspring precinct, created in 2003, consists solely of the residents of Greenspring Village retirement community, and elections are taken seriously there. Barker won Greenspring by 303 to 123, with almost 24 percent of the community's 1,779 voters turning out at the polls. Most precincts were lucky to break five percent.
As she left the Greenspring poll Tuesday afternoon, with both candidates on-site to greet the voters arriving behind her, Alison Payne said, "I think chose the most experienced person."
Experience was to be the deciding criterion most frequently cited by voters leaving the polls. Neither candidate has served in office before, although both have run for office, and both have varied records of public and professional experience. However, Barker has been working and serving in the community almost since his 33-year-old opponent was born.
He also managed to garner the endorsements of every elected official currently serving in Fairfax and Prince William counties — which the 39th District spans — who weighed in on the race. Galligan won endorsements from officials in Alexandria and Arlington and from some that formerly served in Fairfax and Prince William counties.
"Officials selected me because they've worked with me, they know me, and they know what I can do," said Barker.
And that didn't apply only to officials: "I've known him for 20 years, and he's never worked for a for-profit business," said Shirley Carson, a Greenspring voter and polling official. She also cited Barker's numerous endorsements.
As he left Saratoga Elementary, where both the Saratoga and Alban precincts had polls, Robert Kraft noted that the primary was not especially issue-oriented. In local elections, he said, "they all say the same thing, so I try to look at the person, their experience and the confidence I have in them."
Inside, the Saratoga precinct had seen 102 voters — just over 2 percent of the voting population — by about 3:45 p.m., which poll worker Lew Lipscomb said was "comparable" to previous primaries. The Alban poll had brought in nine voters. With 1,232 active voters, Alban is one of the smallest precincts in the county. Barker would win the precinct by 11 to seven.
As she left Saratoga Elementary, Bernadette Lentz showed that experience was not the only standard being taken into consideration. As a Republican, she said, she voted for the more conservative candidate.
AT THE BUSH HILL precinct poll, Arlene Roegner said she was "going with Greg Galligan, because I like his stand on education. As a teacher, I think he's someone who's going to work for the schools."
As she entered the Rose Hill poll, Slyvia Stroll testified to the importance of campaigning. One candidate, she said, had canvassed her neighborhood, and she had received calls from his campaign and a letter from his endorsers. From the other, she had received only a flyer.
Also at Rose Hill, Steven Sundbeck said the question that concerned him was, "Which one is going to be able to defeat the incumbent?"
Voting officials at both Rose Hill and Bush Hill said they had seen voters of all ages throughout the day. Vikki Beaty at the Rose Hill poll said she was impressed to have seen a few 18-year-olds arrive to vote, although she was dissatisfied with the overall number of voters.
Both Bush Hill and Rose Hill are near Galligan's home precinct of Clermont in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County. He won Bush Hill by 102 to 80 and Rose Hill by 66 to 62.
Greenspring voter Kurt Latzko took a different view of the question of experience. Since he felt that either candidate would serve the public well, he said, "I wanted to give a young person the opportunity to get up," he said. "If there's a big age difference, you can't expect the younger person to have the same level of experience as the older." However, he acknowledged, "It's the first time in my life that I have taken that into account."
Speaking to his staff and supporters at his victory party Tuesday night, Barker noted that more voters had turned out in the Clifton precinct to vote in the Democratic primaries than the Republican primaries, an unusual ratio for that area. "We have a tremendous opportunity and challenge," he told the crowd. Voters, he said, are "looking for the type of leadership that isn't coming from an ideological perspective, but is coming from the people's perspective."
Later, as celebrants resumed eating and chatting, Barker said he thought he and his campaign crew could "easily campaign against O'Brien." He cited his landslide victories in the precincts where he had campaigned hardest, and he noted that the opportunity to expand into new territory and the additional press coverage associated with a general election would allow him to broaden his base. "Where people know me, we do extremely well," he said.
He added that the 39th District is "trending Democratic" and said he thought O'Brien had been "out of touch with the voters."
Galligan said he was disappointed by the outcome of the primary but was "very proud" of having run a positive campaign, and that he was "looking forward to Jay O'Brien being defeated."