The Democratic primary is shaping up to be the most competitive election in recent memory, one with an unprecedented number of candidates. So far, 11 candidates have announced their intention to run in the June primary. Election officials are predicting a turnout of about 64,000 voters. That means a winning candidate could emerge with a few thousand votes.
"It wouldn't surprise me if we had a winner on the low side of 12,000 votes," said Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. "What we are talking about here is a Democratic nominee, who is almost certainly assured of election given this district, could be elected with about the size of a decent size high-school basketball game fan base."
And it's a jump ball. Farnsworth says that former Lieutenant Governor Don Beyer is expected to have a fundraising edge over other candidates because he has experience running statewide campaigns, and he has a vast personal fortune he could tap during the campaign. But Beyer's position in the race could be weakened with every new candidate who enters the race as constituencies continue to narrow. And the number of candidates entering the race could end up encouraging even more.
"I don't think a bigger field is a disincentive for others to enter," said Kyle Kondik, analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "We have candidates who say to themselves all they need to do is mobilize a certain segment of the district and get about 10,000 votes and be next member of Congress and have the seat for a very long time."
CENSUS FIGURES show about 770,000 people live in the 8th Congressional District. It's 64 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 13 percent black and 12 percent Asian. The district has about 400,000 active registered voters. Election officials say predicting a turnout is difficult because there's really no precedent. But they need to figure something out nevertheless so they know how many ballots to order. So the estimated turnout is expected to be around 64,000 voters showing up to the polls.
"We think the turnout is going to be somewhere between the turnout for the presidential primary from 2008 and the turnout for the primary in 2012, when the City Council race was on the ballot in Alexandria," said Alexandria Registrar Anna Lieder. "We've got a lot of very well known people who are going to be working very hard to get the numbers up."
The congressional district includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County. It was drawn to be a solidly Democratic district, and recent elections show that to be true. In 2012, President Barack Obama won with 68 percent of the vote. That means that the stakes for the June primary will be very high.
"The truth is that the Democratic nomination is tantamount to an election," said Farnsworth. "One potential development is a very nasty contest. When the competition is intense, the combat can be fierce."
* Don Beyer served as lieutenant governor from 1990 to 1998. He was later chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association and the ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
"I've never felt more enthused and prepared for a job than I do for this one," Beyer said in his announcement. "It would be an honor to represent my community in Congress."
* Lavern Chatman served as president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Northern Virginia from 2004 to 2011.
"The challenges we face demand a new type of leadership and a fresh perspective in Washington," Chatman said in her announcement. "We need leaders who understand the struggles and joys of raising and educating children and the benefits of providing them opportunities for economic empowerment."
* Adam Ebbin has represented the 30th state Senate District of Virginia since 2012. Before that, he represented the 49th District of the House of Delegates, which included parts of Alexandria and Arlington.
"More than ever, we need effective leaders in Congress who know how to reach across the aisle to get things done without abandoning the progressive values we share, just as I’ve done in Richmond," Ebbin said in his announcement. "In Congress, I will work with President Obama to defend the Affordable Care Act, protect federal workers, raise the minimum wage and ensure we never abandon the promise of Social Security and Medicare."
* Bill Euille has served as mayor of Alexandria since 2003. Before that he served as a City Council member and School Board member.
"From growing up in a single-parent household in public housing to being the first African-American elected mayor of Alexandria, I bring that unique combination of progressive values and experience that sets me apart from the rest of the field," said Euille in his announcement. "I have a track record of getting things done to improve our communities."
* Charniele Herring has represented the 46th District of the House of Delegates since 2009. She also served as the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, although she will step down from that position to run for Congress.
"Today we need leaders who are willing to champion progressive values while still being able to reach across the aisle to find common-sense solutions for the challenges our nation faces," said Herring in her announcement. "If elected, I will continue the good works of Congressman Jim Moran to foster the economic development of Northern Virginia, address the needs of our veterans, work for access to affordable healthcare, and protect the privacy of a woman and her healthcare decisions."
* Patrick Hope has represented the 47th District of the House of Delegates since 2010.
"We must have a proven progressive leader as our Democratic nominee in the 8th District," said Hope in his announcement. "We also need a nominee who will be ready to be effective on day one and able to build the necessary seniority that will be so crucial to our region."
* Derek Hyra is an associate professor at Virginia Tech, where he teaches in the university's Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. He is currently a member of the Alexandria Planning Commission.
"I am not a politician. I have never run for elected office," said Hyra in his announcement. "What I have done is spent decades studying economic and community development to understand how we grow the middle class, reduce inequality and strengthen our communities."
* Mark Levine is a radio personality who is a former chief legislative counsel to U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for the Judiciary, Homeland Security and Financial Services Committees.
"We need a congressman who will do more than simply cast a vote, one who will strongly advocate for military veterans, federal employees and contractors, students and young professionals and retirees," said Levine in his announcement. "This is what I've done throughout my career — sticking up for our progressive values while repeatedly tangling with Bill O'Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Larry Kudlow and others on the right who threaten the American Dream."
* Alfonso Lopez has represented the 49th District of the House of Delegates since 2012. Before that, he served as Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine's director of the Virginia Liaison Office in Washington, D.C.
"When it comes to continuing the fight on Capitol Hill to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans, protect a woman's right to choose, preserve our environment and natural resources, and improve our quality of life in Northern Virginia, our next representative must be a proven fighter for our progressive values," Lopez said in his announcement. "With more than 20 years of experience working before Congress, the federal government and at the highest levels of state government on the issues critical to the people of Virginia's Eighth District, I have the proven track record necessary to get to work on day one."
* Bruce Shuttleworth served in the U.S. Navy from 1983 to 1995, stepping down as a lieutenant. In 2012, he waged an unsuccessful primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8).
“As a straight white married father, it may come as a surprise that I am considered a diversity candidate," said Shuttleworth in his announcement. "I’m a fighter pilot and a feminist, and I believe that it is the behavior of men more than women that will determine the quickest path to equal rights."
* Mark Sickles has represented the 43rd District of the House of Delegates since 2004.
"I will bring meaningful federal, state and local experience to a very divided Congress, as well as the ability to work with people across the political spectrum," said Sickles in his announcement. "In my career, I have come to know the federal system as an advocate for infrastructure investment, and will fight tirelessly for the federal workers — like my father, who had a 39-year career in the federal government — who are the heart and soul of our economy."