Blame the Media
Turnout for Tuesday's primary was abysmally low, with only 140,000 participating in the voting. Even when you consider that only half of the electorate — Democrats — participated in the election, it's still a rock bottom number. When asked U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) why participation was so minimal, the congressman pointed his finger at a reporter.
"Probably because so few of you in the press bring any attention to the fact that we are having an election," said Connolly.
If the Democratic primary had been splashed across the front pages of the region's newspapers, the congressman said, more people would be aware of the candidates and the issues. Instead, he said, the public is distracted by other stories and not focussed on the date of the election or the races that are on the ballot.
"The media brings so little attention to it, how can you expect the public to even know that there's an election today if it's not being repeated on the radio, on television and in the printed press," said Connolly. "So I think part of the answer is you."
Tuesday night wasn't just a victory for the establishment. It may have also been a victory for old media.
Take the aggressive campaign of unsuccessful lieutenant governor candidate Aneesh Chopra of Arlington. He ran an aggressive online strategy, an effort in keeping with his background as the first secretary of technology under Gov. Tim Kaine and the first chief technology officer for President Barack Obama. Chopra hired a digital staff that was able to focus their time and attention online.
The strategy may not have been able to win the day against a more traditional campaign. But that doesn't mean the Chopra campaign staffers are willing to declare a loss for new media.
"I think we did well at pushing our message out, and changing the conversation online," said Dave Stroup, digital director for the Chopra campaign. "It might take a little while for the rest of Virginia to catch up, but there is a future in that kind of new media, interactive, engaging campaign."
Balance of Power
Careful what you wish for, the old saying goes, because you just might get it.
That's the situation Democrats may find themselves in this year if state Sen. Ralph Northam (D-6) of Norfolk wins the race for lieutenant governor against Republican E.W. Jackson and state Sen. Mark Herring (D-33) wins the race for attorney general against state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26) of Harrisonburg. That would mean two vacant seats and two special elections in districts were Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell was popular in 2009.
"McDonnell won both of those districts about 55 percent," said University of Mary Washington professor Stephen Farnsworth. "So a strong Republican candidate in a special election would be more than viable."
Since Republicans were able to seize 20 state Senate seats back in 2011, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has been able to break the tie in leadership votes. That means that the G.O.P. has a tenuous hold on leadership, essentially one vote away from losing the majority. Democrats feel they have a strong shot at winning against Jackson, who has compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan and called gays sexually twisted. But if Democrats are unable to hold one or two seats in a special election after November, it won't matter if a Democrat is lieutenant governor or not.
"Democrats may end up gong through this huge process to figure out a way to break the tie in a 20-20 Senate," said Farnsworth. "Then it becomes a 21-19 Senate anyway because they blow a special election or two."
Back to the Future
People sometimes compare politics to high school — a popularity contest that breaks into factions based and can be superficial and cruel. But some people feel that the process may have roots that go back even deeper. When asked about his experience voting, Alexandria voter Peter Ackerman described the process of casting his ballot at MacArthur Elementary School as reminiscent of voting for third grade class president.
"Sitting on a small chair, at a tiny table, coloring in little boxes," he said.