I think my blogging buddy, Bwana, is right about one thing. Charnielle Herring’s very close election shocked Democrats into working harder, otherwise Pat would have won this election. As I’ve said before, Democrats were fresh from the solid victory in November. They were savoring the glow of success, focusing on holidays and then preparing for the Inauguration. Most people I knew were paying closer attention to securing Inauguration tickets than they were to campaigning for still another special election. Republicans, on the other hand, were hungry for another shot at winning something. I’ve been where they are now, and I know that when you lose, you want to go back and fight harder. Democrats just wanted to relax and bask in the warmth of victory. That made them soft.
But the truth is Republicans should not be consoling themselves because the race was so close. If they couldn’t win this one, they should be very worried. Here’s why.
This could have been the GOP’s perfect storm, the one whose wave they could ride and whose storm surge would sweep Sharon out of the running and put a Republican in charge. As VA Blogger observed, on Too Conservative:
Well, we gave it our best and we lost. For my money, I’m not sure there’s anything much the campaign could have done to make up those 1200 votes. The independent candidates (particularly DeCarlo, who targeted Republicans) didn’t cost the election. The Republican ground game was clearly superior to Sharon’s, and outworked her campaign across the County; Sharon won on by running on her party label and, as Ben said, bringing Braddock District out in force.I think VA Blogger is right on target that Sharon won by running on the party label and delivering Braddock District. It was, after all, a special election. That means it was a base election and the key to winning was turning out your people in superior numbers to your opponent's supporters. Sharon did that. The question, though, is why did more Democrats turn out than Republicans?
Two things: Bad brand and worse message.
The Republican brand has been battered at the top level. This is just not their year. But more important, the local GOP had a bad message.
Their meme was that this race was a referendum on Gerry Connolly, whom they believe mismanaged Fairfax County. Worse, according to them, Sharon Bulova should be held responsible for the $650 million budget shortfall. In another time and place that might have worked.
But Fairfax is filled with smart voters, people who work for the federal government, defense contractors, and high tech firms. Our county is home to accountants, engineers, business people, and professionals who read newspapers, watch TV news shows besides just Fox, and surf the web. They are well read and well informed. They understand that a local municipality or county gets its revenue stream from property taxes and sales taxes. And they also realize that a housing bubble burst, there have been record mortgage foreclosures and property values have plummeted, all of which brought down the amount of tax money the county could collect. In addition, consumers aren’t consuming. People are cutting back on eating out and buying non-essential goods. So revenue from sales taxes is down too. Furthermore, they realize that Sharon Bulova could no more have predicted that than businesses like Caterpillar and Nextel could have predicted the downturn that caused them to lay off thousand of workers.
And even if they didn’t realize it, the local newspapers, in articles and editorials, pointed it out in two election cycles. Holding politicians accountable is a good thing. Blaming them for things beyond their control, not so much. It’s a failing strategy for winning elections.
Politicians and businessmen are not psychics. They don’t read tea leaves or gaze in crystal balls. Ironically, every time a Republican tried to lay the blame for budget shortfall at Bulova’s feet, it reminded people about who really caused the recession and mortgage crisis, Republicans at the federal level, and their failed policies. That’s why it rebounded on the GOP and Herrity.
In addition, Herrity tried to run on a platform of change, which had worked so well for Democrats in November. But here’s the cruelest irony for him. While voters did want change from the Bush administration and the GOP at the national level, they are happy with the way Fairfax is run. Those who came out yesterday, came to vote against Herrity’s change and for the status quo. Here’s what the Washington Post said:
From Mount Vernon to McLean, from Baileys Crossroads to Centreville, many who did brave wet roads and deserted polling places said they were motivated either to keep the Democratic brand going strong in Virginia or to give their seal of approval to Bulova's promise of continuity. Herrity's message of change, in particular his pledge to bring more scrutiny to county spending, alarmed some residents who are happy with services as they are.Meanwhile, Herrity still remains an attractive candidate for the GOP. And each loss makes them hungrier for the next time. For now, though, they need a truly new message, at least, in Fairfax. They need to do more than simply run against the status quo. They need to articulate what they stand for instead. It takes more than a fresh face. It also takes fresh ideas and the ability to say yes to something. It turns out people actually like the programs Fairfax provides. Perhaps telling them you get what you pay for might work?
"I wanted to make sure to keep the community centers open so little kids have a place to go," said Nana Osei, 20, who attends Northern Virginia Community College and said the talk there was that Bulova would do a better job protecting such services. "Like they all say, kids are the future."