Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ask The Delegate:Chap Petersen

Delegate Chap Petersen wrote to us, and Raising Kaine on Just Why the democrats are winning Fairfax County: Why the Democrats are Winning Fairfax County In 1996, Republican Bob Dole lost the Presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton. He took some solace in winning a narrow victory to pick up Virginia’s thirteen electoral votes. His victory was assisted by a win in suburban Fairfax County – the key to Northern Virginia. That same year, Republican John Warner broke open a close statewide contest by defeating Democrar Mark Warner by 53,000 votes in Fairfax – more than half his statewide margin. Incumbent Republican Congressmen Frank Wolf and Tom Davis took that one better; they were re-elected over Democratic opponents in Fairfax by a two-to-one edge. The 1990’s were the high water mark for the Fairfax County Republicans. By the end of the decade, they held two of three Congressional and 8 of 13 Delegate seats. They began the 21st Century by winning the County for George W. Bush. Then the momentum shifted. Since 2001, Democrats have won every important contested election in Fairfax County (with an exception for two 2002 State Senate specials captured by Cuccinelli and O’Brien). John Kerry – not exactly the world’s strongest candidate – won Fairfax by 35,000 votes. Tim Kaine held Jerry Kilgore under 40% of the vote, an unprecedented trouncing in a large, diverse jurisdiction like Fairfax. What happened? It wasn’t one thing. It was three things. Demographic Change: Take it from someone who grew up in Fairfax in the Seventies (a.k.a. “the Wonder Years”) and graduated from Fairfax High School in 1986. This is not the same community our parents raised us in. The most evident change is in the school system, which is nearing 40% minority with a significant foreign-language component. The minority population, driven especially by the Asian and Hispanic components, has changed the political dynamic as well. While it is impossible to generalize for each ethnic group or the success of various politicians in honing their message (some adjusted, some did not), the bottom line is that a one-third minority vote in each election has changed the results of the County. And it generally helps the D’s. Change in the Job Base: When I was growing up, a lot of Dads (and some Moms) worked at the Pentagon. It was our local industry. In the Reagan era, the trend was strengthened by the array of defense contractors who took root around the Beltway. These folks pretty much all voted Republican and they came out for Reagan, Bush, Dole and Bush (in that order). Between 1999 and 2001, a funny thing happened. It was called the Internet boom. Tens of thousands of jobs were created, and most the folks that came for these jobs settled in Fairfax County. Yes, the boom eventually fell flat. But the industry of Northern Virginia had changed forever. For the first time, the job growth was not in defense-related industry, it was in high tech and communications. That trend has continued to the present day. The change in voting patterns can be summed up thus: a retired military couple moves out, a new family with kids and a high tech job moves in. You do the analysis. Again, this trend has helped the D’s. Fight the Power! One of the best lines for Fairfax Repubs in the 1980s and 1990s was that they opposed the “downstate Democratic bosses” who controlled the legislature and discriminated against Fairfax in school and transportation funding. That went out the window in 2000, when the Repubs formally took control of the House of Delegates. Now the Fairfax Dems get to run against the “Richmond Republicans” who shortchange Fairfax. One of my favorite lines as a candidate was to pit myself as a young man taking on the Richmond power structure, which is Republican. That’s what my constituents wanted and that’s what I tried to provide. The bottom line: Fairfax and Richmond are on an opposite track (for many reasons). And the party in control of the Assembly has a hard time north of the Occoquan River. This is another D advantage, at least in House races. And that advantage can even carry to the top of the ticket. Of course, the average voter doesn’t give a damn about trends. Nor do they obsess about their own identity before casting a vote (“Gee, I’m a white computer engineer. Who should I support?”) They vote for the person they think will do a better job. Lately, that means they’ve been voting in Fairfax for the Democrat. A lot of Republican candidates in the past five years ran against older, better-qualified Dems. It’s no disgrace. Heck, I’ve lost to more experience opponents on occasion. But the failure of the Republicans to develop a solid farm system in Fairfax has meant that they have been losing in the majors. Bottom line, a good candidate beats a bad candidate most every time (there are exceptions! J) -Chap Petersen

Thank you Delegate Petersen for taking the time to write to us!

This is great analysis, it's also a little scary.. but true.

Northern Virginia is the single most important voting block in Virginia. No Governor has ever been elected without winning Fairfax is crucial Republicans nominate people who can win up here.



At 12/29/2005 09:45:00 PM, Anonymous gopkdh said...

Great Stuff!

I am a HardCore Republican but I would support this man for higher office

At 12/30/2005 02:29:00 AM, Blogger Nikhil Verma said...

The Fairfax Republican Party, along with the state party, has to do a better job of reaching out to minority voters. We need to recruit more minority Republican candidates to run for office. And we need to make minority outreach a year round thing, not just something that we do around election time.
Also, need to do a better job of explaining why conservatives can manage the economy better than liberals. I find it mind boggling that Governor Warner has convinced CEO's and professional executives to accept higher taxes because they allegedly are good for the economy. He managed to convince the state legislature to raise taxes. I cannot believe that either.
Bottom line- we need to do a better job in Fairfax County. Either that or this state will be turning blue very, very quickly.

At 12/30/2005 05:01:00 AM, Anonymous NOVA Scout said...

Republicans needn't throw in the towel. Petersen's analysis is sound enough, but Republicans can appeal to every element of the changing demographics he identifies IF they run capable candidates who can convince the burgeoning population of Northern Virginia and elsewhere that they know how to govern well and govern fairly. This past year we ran a ticket with very little executive experience. They were consequently forced to run on bromides and cliches. That won't cut it up here anymore. We need to find veterans, business executives, professionals and public officials with strong leadership records. No more empty suits.

At 12/30/2005 06:49:00 AM, Anonymous GOP Phantom said...

The reason why the GOP doesn't have a "farm team" is that the appointment process has blocked GOP supporters out of Fairfax and Richmond appointments - Gerry Connolly and Mark Warner have appointed DEMS who then have a better opportunity to run for political office. The GOP is also responsible for "youth" candidates-the ones who have the time to go door-to-door - but should be kept in the closet.

At 12/30/2005 07:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chap misses a major point -- the GOP eats its young. Not only don't people want to get involved, but when a GOP candidate gets elected, the party and its activists spend more time attacking the Republican instead of going after the Democrats. The Republicans are going to lose big in 2007 in Nova because its party leadership and activists act as though an elected official should act like a party official, and this is unprincipled and unrealistic.

At 12/30/2005 10:06:00 AM, Anonymous The Ghost of Tom Joad said...

"Also, need to do a better job of explaining why conservatives can manage the economy better than liberals. I find it mind boggling that Governor Warner has convinced CEO's and professional executives to accept higher taxes because they allegedly are good for the economy."

You don't think that Gov. Gilmore had any part convincing people that Republicans are sometimes not the best stewards of finances?

At 12/30/2005 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Hirons said...

His analysis makes little sense and I think there is an awful lot missing from it.

First the demographic descriptions are silly considering he even states that the high water mark for the Republicans was the late 1990's. Things demographically haven't changed that significantly from 1999 to 2005. That's definitely not enough time to define a generational shift. Minority population increase, sure - but I'd be surprised to see a surge in the number of minority voters in all elections as compared to the raw population number. (Not that we shouldn’t be aware and reaching out to the minority voter base.

As he states Dems. started doing better in 2001. Well, perhaps it has something to do with personality. Mark Warner is a very strong politician. The dems in Fairfax have been able to ride his coattails as well as anyone. The Republicans have not been able to muster a clear message, during that same period, to wage war against a strong personality with good leadership and a motivated activist pool. The Republicans have found it more fit to go to battle with the attack of what he is doing wrong as opposed to what we can do right, and I don't think that strategy is conducive to winning elections long term.

Combine that with the internal rifts that have plagued the Republicans - statewide - since 2001 and the Democrats should be outperforming the Republicans in swing areas like Fairfax and Prince William County. But how would Mr. Peterson account for the elections and re-elections of Cuccinnelli and O'Brein, two Senators of pretty strong conservative breed elected in areas that, according to his analysis, Republicans shouldn't be winning elections. I would argue that both of them are very good at expressing their message and putting their opponents on the defensive.

Republicans in Fairfax County, statewide and nationwide did well in the 1990's because of two important factors. We were still riding wave of the Reagan years and we developed clear strong messages. Remember the "Contract with America"? May have been a gimick - but it was the defibrillation we needed to jump start our success of the 2nd half of the 1990's. It was a clear message of what we, as a team, can do right. Then came Gilmore with the clear message of "No Car Tax".

That's what wins elections and over the last 3 or 4 years the Dems have been doing a better job then the R's with the message. Unless the Republicans simply want to be the party of the xurbs and farm country we need not run away from our message. We need to develop it and evolve into a clear understandable message folks in Fairfax, Prince William, Virginia Beach, Roanoke, and Franklin County can all hear and relate to. Otherwise get use to the Democrats and watch them elect more and more liberal leadership the longer they hold the power. The potential for Senator Leslie Byrne is just around the corner if Republicans don’t do something soon to right the ship.

At 12/30/2005 10:35:00 AM, Blogger too conservative said...

I don't think we eat our young, but instead sometimes forget about the exprienced, and nominate our young for elections they can't win.

At 12/30/2005 10:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do we need to start looking towards Richmond as the new Republican stronghold?

At 12/30/2005 01:49:00 PM, Blogger The Richmond Democrat said...

I think you may need to look further South. Richmond is overwhelmingly Democratic. The support you seek is in Chesterfield, though Bolling hopes to make Hanover a Republican base.

At the end of the day Virginia Republicans have shown they have no interest in governing. This should come as no surprise from a party that proclaims to have little faith in the efficacy of government. Republicans just won't put in the time and effort to govern well, to become "technocrats."

Republicans prefer showy ideological gestures like wedge issues to the daily nitty gritty. Republicans should stick to the General Assembly, where you are only obligated to work 60 days on even numbered years and 30 days on odd numbered years.

At 12/30/2005 09:27:00 PM, Blogger GOPHokie said...

The Richmond Metro area is the GOP base. Hanover/Henrico/Chesterfield is probably the most important section of Virginia for the GOP. Just look at the statewide races. Bolling and McDonnell ran ahead of Kilgore in those areas, which allowed us to win those races.
I have always believed that Fairfax has not turned decidely democratic but that the GOP has a bad message up there. We can't campaign on SWVA and Richmond issues in NOVA. It will get worse if we don't fix it either.

At 12/31/2005 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Charlie Fugate said...


Your last comment is spot on. Issues that effect SWVA and the Valley are not relevant to NOVA and the VA GOP should realize that. If you're not talking about transportation in NOVA, you're not talking their language.

Charlie Fugate


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