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Winners and Losers: Virginia Politics 2014

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As always, the following list isn’t meant to be comprehensive, so feel free to add your suggestions in comments section. Thanks, and here’s hoping for a better 2015 for Virginia Democrats!

Winners

1. Rep. Dave Brat (R): The guy’s nuttier than a port-o-potty at a peanut festival, as the saying goes, but he’s now CONGRESSMAN crazy, having pulled the upset victory of the year, over none other than the Republican Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Eric Cantor.

2. Ed Gillespie (R): He lost the U.S. Senate election to Mark Warner, but by a tiny margin in a race that wasn’t even supposed to be close, proving you CAN win by losing sometimes. Now, Gillespie has turned himself into a serious power in Virginia politics, the only question being what he will do with that power.

3. Rep. Scott Rigell (R): After a crushing victory in November, Rigell’s starting to look entrenched in the 2nd CD. That’s very unfortunate for the 2nd CD, but good for Scott Rigell!

4. Barbara Comstock (R): Right-wing and hyperpartisan as they come; nonetheless, she managed to not just win, but utterly TROUNCE her Democratic opponent, John Foust. The only questions now are: a) can Democrats beat her in 2016, possibly their last chance to do so before she is totally entrenched; b) when will she be seriously talked about for national office (e.g., U.S. Senate, VP)?

5. Sen. Tim Kaine (D): It seems to me that the “junior” partner in the relationship with Mark Warner has now moved to the top of the heap. Kaine has handled himself very well in the U.S. Senate, really come into his own, and set himself up for…I dunno, running mate to Hillary Clinton in 2016 perhaps?

6. Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R): He’s got the majority, not that he’ll do anything good with it. Now, let’s see if he can keep it.

7. Don Beyer (D): Came back from Switzerland to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Jim Moran, and won in a landslide (both in the primary and the general election). I’d also note that 8th CD Democrats arguably get someone with all the strong qualities of Jim Moran, without Moran’s numerous (ethical and other) downsides.

8. AG Mark Herring (D): A great year for him on the policy and political fronts (marriage equality, in-state tuition for “dreamers,” etc.), no matter how you look at it. The only question is, can he match (or top) his 2014 accomplishments in 2015 (hint: time to take on environmental issues, the corrupt State Corportation Commission, and pay-to-play politics as exemplified by Dominion Power!), and how much of a leg up does this give him for the 2017 Virginia governor’s race?

9. John Vihstadt (R), Libby Garvey (D): They didn’t lead Arlington in a positive direction in 2014, nor were their claims about the streetcar (and other issues) correct in most cases, but they won big time in 2014. Highly unfortunate for Arlington’s future…sigh.

10. Dominion Virginia Power: This company has used its capture of Virginia’s government to benefit…well, itself of course. To the tune of tens of millions of $$$$$ in taxpayer-funded corporate welfare, a “study” by the State Corporation Commission that might as well have been by Dominion (was it?), and continued efforts to hold back the transition to a clean energy economy for Virginia. Yeah, the rest of us all lose, but Dominion keeps on keepin’ on…so I guess that makes them a “winner,” in an utterly warped sense.

Mixed

1. Sen. Mark Warner (D): I mean, he won the election, so I guess he wasn’t a “loser” in 2014 per se. Other than that, however…Warner’s “both sides”/”radical centrism” shtick lost its effectiveness, Warner himself lost his aura of invincibility, his ignoring/dissing the “base” while courting “red” Virginia didn’t win over “red” Virginia while failing to inspire the “base,” etc. And the campaign’s post-election “analysis” (using that word loosely) indicates they don’t have a clue what happened. So…yeah, Warner’s in the “mixed” category because he didn’t lose the election, but other than that he was a big-time loser in 2014.

2. State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R): With the rise of Ed Gillespie, his path to the 2017 Republican gubernatorial nomination may be more complicated than it was prior to 2014. On the other hand, I could see him better off running on, let’s say an Ed Gillespie/Pete Snyder/Mark Obenshain ticket in 2017, than with himself at the top of the ticket (and god knows what right-wing nuts for LG and AG).

3. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D): Vowed to expand Medicaid one way or the other by the end of the summer. Did not do so, in large part because he lost control of the Virginia State Senate following Phil Puckett’s resignation. Chances of getting anything major (beyond luring companies to Virginia by dangling various forms of corporate welfare in their faces) accomplished in his final three years, barring Democrats taking back the Senate? Not good. On the other hand, as a national Democratic friend pointed out to me, T-Mac’s kind of a winner, because he “still gets to party in the governor’s mansion,” which is “everything he wants.” LOL. Seriously, though, McAuliffe does deserve credit for fighting on Medicaid expansion and gun safety. Now, let’s see him do what he does best – raise s*** tons of money! – in 2015, when the entire Virginia General Assembly is on the ballot.

4. McAuliffe Chief of Staff Paul Reagan (D): On the one hand, he was in the news – and not in a good way – for leaving a voicemail message for Phil Puckett promising that “we would basically do anything” to keep him in the State Senate. Reagan was then thrown under the bus by his boss, Terry McAuliffe, who claimed Reagan had made a mistake (even though, clearly, Reagan was doing exactly what McAuliffe would have wanted him to do, other than leaving it in a voicemail message). On the other hand…well, he wasn’t indicted or anything (nor were Terry Kilgore or Phil Puckett or anyone else for their roles in this fiasco).

5. University of Virginia: On the one hand, they went through hell due to Rolling Stone’s article on a supposed gang rape at a campus fraternity. On the other hand, they’ve mostly been vindicated in terms of that specific incident. On yet another hand…lots of issues remain at UVA, and really at campuses across America, about sexual assault and harassment against female students (and a related problem: excessive consumption of alcohol, whether at frat parties or not). This is a serious problem that isn’t going away.

6. John Whitbeck (R): The anti-Semitic “joke” dude lost by a whopping 15 points to Democrat Jennifer Wexton in the January 2014 special election for Mark Herring’s State Senate seat. So he’s a loser right? Yeah, except that Virginia Republicans are now going to make this loser their Party Chair. So…if you consider that a good thing, then I guess Whitbeck is in the “mixed” category. If not, then he’s just a loser.

Losers

1. Former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R): It’s hard to imagine a worse year than the one McDonnell just had. Indicted on January 21 on federal corruption charges; went through a trial in which a lot of dirty laundry about him, his wife, his family, etc. were aired out; convicted on September 4; recommended sentence of 10-12 years in prison; lost his Liberty University teaching position; son arrested for DUI; marriage in shambles…on and on it goes. What’s amazing is that just a few years ago, McDonnell was seen as a rising star in the national GOP, possible VP or even presidential material some day. A nightmarish “loser” of a year, in large part of his own making…

2. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R): One of the most powerful people in the country lost an election to…who? Dave Brat? Despite outspending Brat by a gazillion to one? Add Cantor’s consultants, pollsters, ad makers, etc. to this list as well. My god. On the other hand, I’m tempted to move Cantor to the “mixed” category, because: a) he escaped the dysfunctional, FUBAR House of Representatives; and b) he’s now cashing in, big time, making far more money than he ever would have as an elected official. Still, it’s hard to conclude that 2014 wasn’t an utter debacle for Eric Cantor.

3. State Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D): Went from Minority Leader to Majority Leader back to Minority Leader. Unfortunately for Saslaw, that latter status is likely to remain for a while. Meanwhile, he continued to make a buffoon out of himself pretty much every time he opened his mouth, while being pressured/forced to fire his Senate Democratic Caucus staff. He was outmaneuvered repeatedly by Senate Republicans. He apparently was completely clueless about Phil Puckett’s pending resignation. Oh, and he also blew hundreds of thousands of dollars in a kamikaze mission to try and hold Puckett’s 2:1 Cuccinelli district. Of course, that failed too, as many of us told them it would, just like almost everything else Saslaw tried in 2014. Why is this guy still Senate Democratic Leader? Even if he raises a lot of money, he just turns around and wastes most of it anyway, all while tarnishing the Democratic “brand.” Get this guy outta here!

4. Del. Joe Morrissey (D): Hardly anyone had heard of Morrissey prior to events of the past few weeks. Now that everyone has, Morrissey’s almost certainly on his way out the door of the Virginia House of Delegates (either via election or expulsion by a vote that’s likely to be near unanimous). Other than that, his reputation is in ruins, if he cares about stuff like that (doubtful).

5. Arlington County’s credibility, future, etc.: Just a debacle of a year in every way for Arlington County, in terms of its credibility, its future, its economic competitiveness, you name it. Abandoning the streetcar project, particularly in the kneejerk, panicked way that it was done (following a campaign of lies and demagoguery by John Vihstadt et al), means that the “Arlington Way” is now toast (see Walter Tejada’s speech on that subject), while partners at the state and regional level have to wonder if they ever want to work with Arlington County again — on anything. As an added “bonus,” Arlington forfeited billions of dollars in development, hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues, and tens of millions of dollars from Virginia, all for…what? The impossible, mythical unicorn of “bus rapid transit” (not possible on, or appropriate for, Columbia Pike). Other? Nope and nope. #FAIL all around.

6. John Foust (D)/Foust campaign: I wrote about this one here. In short, Foust lost by 16 points despite spending somewhere over $2 million, in a basically tossup, “purple” district, against an out-of-the-mainstream (can we say “transvaginal ultrasounds?”) candidate in an open-seat election. His campaign’s emails were an embarrassment; his TV ads were lame; and he ended up doing no better than Judy Feder did against incumbent Frank Wolf in 2006. I mean, sure, it wasn’t a great year for Democrats, but this takes “talent.” Oh, and as an added bonus, Foust’s County Board seat could be in jeopardy in 2015. Ugh.

7. Alan Howze (D): In overwhelmingly Democratic Arlington County, Democrat Alan Howze lost not one but two – count’em, two! – elections this year to a Republican masquerading as an “independent.” That really takes some doing. Alan’s a good guy, very smart and serious, but it’s really hard to see a political future for him at this point.

8. Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC): Lost all credibility with its bizarre, warped, wildly biased (towards the coal industry) “analysis,” using that word as loosely as is humanly possible, of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. What, was this thing written by the coal companies, Dominion Power, etc? And no, that was NOT a rhetorical question, I’m seriously asking. Time for a serious housecleaning at this cesspool of an agency. As for the media who published the SCC’s coal industry propaganda without pointing out that it was complete crap, they are in another, possibly even lower, category of “loser.”

9. Hundreds of thousands of Virginians who need expanded Medicaid; local hospitals; Virginia taxpayers: Thanks a lot, Virginia Republicans, for not allowing billions of dollars of our own tax dollars to come back to Virginia to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Virginians, boost the economy, help with the budget deficit, keep local hospitals solvent; etc. Meanwhile, other states with Republican governors are moving ahead, with 27 states plus D.C. doing so to date, and others (Utah? Tennessee?) likely on the way. But nooooo…not Virginia. Again, thanks a LOT Republicans!

10. Virginia’s economic future: Although the national economy is recovering — adding jobs like gangbusters, etc. – Virginia, a state that’s heavily reliant for its prosperity on federal (civilian, defense, contractor) spending, faces major headwinds in the era of sequestration and government downsizing. How do we get out of this mess? Invest in our future, in such things as a clean energy economy. Unfortunately, Republicans and corporate interests (e.g., Dominion, fossil fuel companies) are largely blocking that, just as they’re blocking badly needed tax reform and other important items on the agenda.

11. Suzanne Patrick (D) campaign: How you manage to take a strong resume like Patrick’s and turn it into a 17.8-point loss in a “plus 2” Republican district is beyond me. But they did it, so as Chris Cillizza likes to say, “Congrats…or something.” Heh.

12. Virginia/All of us: In the US House of Representatives, our delegation is filled with a bunch of conspiracy theorists, climate science deniers, Ayn Rand true believers, corporate puppets etc. Same thing with the General Assembly, with both chambers now controlled by those same types of people. Not good.

13. Ralph Northam (D): In losing most of his ability to preside over (and cast important tiebreaking votes in) a 20-20 State Senate, Northam lost much of his platform to try and set himself up for a potential 2017 Democratic primary for governor. Meanwhile, his potential 2017 rival, AG Mark Herring (see above in the “winners” column) spent 2014 becoming a hero to the progressives who tend to vote in Democratic primaries.

14. “Sideshow Bob” Marshall (R): He ranted. He raved. He fulminated. But most importantly, he lost badly. First and foremost, so much for the infamous, anti-gay-marriage “Marshall-Newman amendment” – and good riddance to bad garbage! In other news, “Sideshow Bob” as so frustrated with his utter lack of effectiveness in the Republican-controlled House of Delegate, that he dared Speaker Howell to kick him out of the Republican caucus. More likely, Howell et al. will just laugh at him behind his back, and make sure that he remains utterly irrelevant.

15. Jack Trammell (D)/Trammell campaign: Not that he was ever expected to win in a solidly “red” district, but he could have at least made a strong case against Dave Brat and for Democratic/progressive values. Instead, he did neither. I can’t even tell you how many negative things I heard about his campaign from people in the district. For instance, one person wrote me and cited “lack of any visible social media campaign;” “any notices from his staff about upcoming events, nor seeing much on his Facebook page which might capture the interests of the casual viewers;” and “a lack of information about well…everything from campaign coordination, to GOTV, all the way down to nuts-and-bolt issues like having enough signs.” Other than that, great job! LOL

16. DPVA Chair Dwight Jones (D): People keep telling me this guy’s completely AWOL, and you can observe it for yourself even if you don’t have sources constantly telling you “Dwight Jones stories” (e.g., nowhere to be found on important conference calls, puts out a statement praising Joe Morrissey for resigning and never retracts it, reportedly raises no money, does nothing to build the party, shows no leadership whatsoever, put out a bizarre press release after election day 2014 claiming it was “a good day for Virginia Democrats”…). Remind me again, why is this guy chair?

17. 8th CD Democratic primary losers: Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille seems to have bought himself a mayoral primary in losing badly (8.4% of the vote) in this race. Lavern Chatman got better known in the district, spent a lot of money…and got crushed (she received just over 5% of the vote). Chatman also was exposed as…well, see Chatman for Congress Campaign Issues Statement on “Fraudulent Conveyance” Appeal She Lost in 2003 and Video: Lavern Chatman Spoke Positively About, Donated to NC Gov. Pat McCrory (R). Mark Levine spent a lot of money but won just 6.7% of the vote. Charniele Herring ran one of the worst campaigns I think I’ve ever seen in my 10 years covering Virginia politics and ended up dropping out of the race in mid-May. Amazing.  

  • kindler

    And no one can accuse you of bias, since you filled the winner column with plenty of Republicans and the loser column with lots of Democrats.

    I would also note how Repubs have refreshed their ranks with new faces, like Comstock, Brat and (the new as a candidate) Gillespie, while Dems, to a large extent, have clung to an aging and not very inspiring old guard.  

    So this is a bad situation that Virginia Dems need to really think over, talk about, and come up with plans to change.  In particular, I recall when Terry, during his campaign, said that he was going to focus time, effort and money on party building in the Commonwealth.  He said he saw it as a 10-year effort.  

    Now would be an excellent time to begin such a process.  What do you say, Mr. Governor?

  • scott_r

    This list – Rigell and Comstock in particular, but Cantor & Brat (who are a single phenomenon) – would be much shorter since the real story is the way their districts changed.  

    I also think the turnout makes the size of the GOP ‘wave’ look a lot bigger than it was – I wouldn’t say Warner is as vulnerable as this made him look, nor are the other ‘blowouts’ (Trammell or Patrick).  

    TLDR: don’t attribute structural trends to individuals

  • runbmc

    Jennifer Wexton and Lynwood Lewis. These two are great leaders in the caucus and both ran great races earlier this year during a special election which resulted in lower turnout. These two are going places!

    By the way, who’s running against Euille for mayor?

  • Are you able to go into any more detail about Foust being in trouble in 2015?