Home Virginia Politics Did Ken Cuccinelli Really Win Repeatedly in a “Deep Blue,” “Liberal” District?...

Did Ken Cuccinelli Really Win Repeatedly in a “Deep Blue,” “Liberal” District? Uh…no.

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You’ve probably heard the argument for Ken Cuccinelli’s electability statewide, that he’s proven he can win in “deep blue,” “liberal” Fairfax County. For instance, this Tea Party site claims that Cuccinelli “has been repeatedly elected in the Deep Blue county of Fairfax, Virginia.” And this right wing site says Cuccinelli hails “from the very blue county of Fairfax.” This conservative site argues that Cuccinelli is electable because he is “from Fairfax County, the epicenter of Virginia’s liberal population.” And Cuccinell himself repeatedly claims that “he keeps winning ‘in the tough part of Virginia, in Northern Virginia, without sacrificing my principles.'” (Note: just yesterday, Cuccinelli said “he’s won three state Senate elections in a Fairfax County district ‘in the most liberal part of Virginia'”) Finally, Waldo Jaquith, who is normally absolutely accurate (and astute) in his analysis of Virginia politics, claims that Cuccinelli “represented Fairfax in the General Assembly for two terms.”

The problem is, none of these are accurate. A few points.

1. Ken Cuccinelli did not – repeat, NOT! – represent “Fairfax County.” Keep in mind that Fairfax County is Virginia’s largest jurisdiction, with around 1.1 million people (1/7th of Virginia’s entire population). Fairfax County is so big that it’s represented by 9 state senators (in part or whole) and 17 delegates (ditto). Ken Cuccinelli was one of those 9 state senators for about 7 years, from when he was first elected in a special election in 2002, through his election as Virginia Attorney General in 2009. Again, Cuccinelli never even came close to representing all of Fairfax County, just 37 precincts out of 223 total precincts, or around 17%.

2. Cuccinelli’s district, the 37th, was not – repeat, NOT! – a particularly “blue” or “liberal” district, certainly not when Cuccinelli first ran there! In fact, just a year before Cuccinelli was first elected from that district in 2002, guess who carried the 37th in the 2001 Virginia governor’s race, Democrat Mark Warner or Republican Mark Earley? Nope, it wasn’t the Democrat, even as Warner was winning the state by nearly 100,000 votes. Instead, Republican Mark Earley won the 37th, albeit by a small (1.2 percentage point) margin. Hmmmm.

3. In 2004, Republican Tom Davis demolished Democrat Ken Longmyer by around 26 points in the 37th State Senate district precincts of the 11th congressional district. Oh, and Republican Frank Wolf annihilated Democrat James Socas in the 37th State Senate district precincts of the 10th congressional district. Yeah, real “deep blue” and “liberal” – not!

4. As the district trended from light red to purplish, Cuccinelli’s victory margin declined, from 10 points in 2002, to just 6 points in 2003, and to less than 1 point (101 votes over Janet Oleszek, who as much as I love her, would probably admit she’s not the strongest political candidate in the world!) in 2007. In other words, we won’t be calling him “Landslide Ken” anytime soon for his narrow wins in the “purple” 37th State Senate district.

5. Cuccinelli was replaced in the State Senate by moderate Democrat (and former Republican) Dave Marsden, a former appointee of Republican Governor Jim Gilmore. Marsden narrowly won a special election (in January 2010), 51%-49%, in this supposedly “liberal”/”blue” district. Yeah right!

In conclusion, Cuccinelli certainly never represented Fairfax, and its 1.1 million people, as a whole, but instead a small fraction (around 17%) in one of the county’s most “purple,” or even “red,” areas. By no stretch of the imagination was the 37th State Senate district “the epicenter of Virginia’s liberal population,” as Cuccinelli fallaciously claims – not now, and CERTAINLY not in 2002 or 2003 when Cuccinelli was first elected. In other words, Cuccinelli’s lying, and to the extent the media’s also claiming that Cuccinelli won in a “very blue”/”liberal” part of Virginia, they’re simply perpetuating the lie. Stop doing that!

  • AnonymousIsAWoman

    I believe your analysis is spot on, Lowell. Cuccinelli has long cultivated the reputation of the slayer of the liberal dragon in deep blue Fairfax County.  It is both undeserved and exaggerated.

    As you know, I have been a long-time “Cooch-watcher,” and I’ve stated publicly that those who underestimate him do so at their own peril.  He can be charming, witty, and a formidable debater and campaigner.  But that myth that he’s unbeatable because he keeps winning in the heart of blue Fairfax is just that, a myth that deserves debunking.  

    So here goes. The 37th is a purple, trending blue, but still very much swing precinct.  According to Wikepedia, “Fairfax County was once considered a Republican bastion.”  In the 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential races, the 37th went Republican, albeit by very small margins.  Tom Davis ran and won strongly here.  Republican Supervisor John Cook today represents Braddock District on the Board of Supervisors, as one of three Republican supervisors.

    Back when Cuccinelli first won his seat, he did so in a very low-turnout special election in August of 2000.  August – a month guaranteed to have exceedingly low rates of participation in no small part because so many voters were actually away on vacations. All he had to do was mobilize the Religious Right while everybody else was not paying attention.

    By 2007, however, he barely eked out a victory by 98 votes. Indeed, the speculation after that race was that he would move to seek statewide office because, given a stronger opponent in a future senate race, he probably would not survive in the State Senate.  The timing was right for him to run statewide.  And let’s talk about that statewide race.

    In 2009, Cuccinelli benefited from McDonnell at the top of the ticket. McDonnell ran a very pragmatic “Bob for Jobs” campaign, which minimized his own social conservatism.  He won in Fairfax by moving to the center and portraying himself as a pragmatic problem-solver.

    It also helped the Republicans, however, that Creigh Deeds ran a lackluster campaign that depressed the Democratic base, never good when you are going into a low turnout race in an off year.

    This is especially true in Fairfax and the 37th District, where the electorate is composed of so many federal workers and contractors for whom federal elections hold more personal consequences than state elections.  Here, you really have to work to turn out Democrats for state and local elections.

    And guess what? Nobody has benefited more from that pattern than Cuccinelli, all of whose victories have come in low-turnout years.

    In 2013, turnout will be key to taking back Richmond. That is true all over, but especially in the 37th.  If we get our people out, we will slay the myth of Cooch the Dragon Slayer.  I believe it can be done!