Sadly, Bruce Roemmelt tried to change too many things too fast and was forced out by the establishment crowd after only one year as Chair, after a lot of backstabbing and petty rumors. While I have not agreed with everything that has been done, current Chairman, Harry Wiggins, has been a pleasant surprise. Chairman Wiggins deserves a lot of credit for the performance in 2012, but the real test will be 2013. Just as we saw in 2008, many of the new volunteers and members will quietly disappear this year. Can Harry Wiggins and the Democratic committee keep more of these members engaged, raise more money, and pick up seats in 2013? I have heard exciting rumors about a new Democratic headquarters and changes to the stale, outdated Jefferson Jackson dinner that could signal a new era of the PWCDC. I wish Chairman Wiggins the best of luck in these reform efforts.
As we have seen in the last 4 years, there are plenty of Democratic voters in Prince William County. With redistricting, many Democrats are packed in one solid district and split up between several others. The 2011 redistricting map offers one safe Democratic seat, one great pick up opportunity, two lean Republican seats, and two safe Republican seats. Lowell has asked me to provide some local comments and insight on these races.
As Ben Tribbett is much better at crunching numbers, I have linked to his analysis of the districts as well in hopes to not duplicate his great work.
District 2 (Analysis by Ben Tribbett)
The newly created 2nd district in Prince William County has great potential to be a Democratic pick up in 2013. The district stretches along the east side of Prince William County along Route 1 and skips Dumfries and Triangle to spill in to North Stafford. Republican Speaker Bill Howell helped craft this district for his friend and current incumbent Mark Dudenheffer.
Throughout the 2011 campaign Dudenheffer proved to be a lackluster campaigner, a terrible debater and a barely noticeable fundraiser. Despite a spirited effort from Esteban Garces the demographics of this district in a non-gubernatorial election proved to be too much to overcome. Dudenheffer has not done anything wrong in Richmond but he also does not seem to be improving his campaign skills. Additionally rumors are beginning to circulate that he may look at returning to local government in Stafford, especially if Stafford moves to an at-large County Chair for the Board of Supervisors.
The key to win in this district is to raise a significant amount of money to run two different programs in Stafford and Prince William. A Prince William County candidate must run a strong field and turnout program in the heavily Democratic Woodbridge areas and must also run an aggressive persuasion program in Stafford to minimize the vote deficit. With two very different groups of voters it will be ill advised for a candidate to try and talk to them in the same manner.
Since 2011 Democrats have marked this district as a top priority and Delegate Scott Surovell has worked hard to recruit a strong candidate. I am hearing that a young candidate is ready to announce early in 2013. Their challenge will be if they are able to focus on doing the important things, raising money and talking to voters directly, or will they be distracted by “Prince William Style” campaigns that put a greater emphasis on the 4th of July Parade than turning out votes. If a candidate can emerge with the support of the old guard but a focus on doing the things needed to win younger and minority voters this could be a very fun race in 2013.
This district will benefit from the continued strong leadership of Collin Davenport, the Chair of the Woodbridge Democratic Committee. For years the WDC had been a thorn in the side of the local committee with heavy infighting and petty long term grudges. Collin and the new WDC have turned the committee around in a short time frame to be the strongest committee in the County. Collin and his members are not only organized but show up to work to support their candidates.
House District 13 and Republican incumbent Bob Marshall has been a money pit for Democrats for years. After the exciting and aggressive runs of Bruce Roemmelt in 2005 and 2007, Democrats decided to take a different path in 2009 and 2011 by running moderate candidates who did not say much.
Before redistricting, this was the largest district in the Commonwealth by population, due to explosive growth in western Prince William County. This district became much more manageable after redistricting and picked up some decent Democratic areas such as Manassas Park. I am less optimistic than others about the chances that this district can flip, but to do it, Democrats will need to find a candidate who can energize Hispanic voters in this district.
While Bob Marshall continues to anger and outrage Democrats, he has stayed very in tune with the people who turnout in this district. The danger for Marshall, as Ben Tribbett points out, is that this district continues to rapidly change. New voters are continuing to move in to Manassas Park and the communities around Sudley Road. If Democrats can engage these voters who have never heard of Bob Marshall before and turn them out this district will become closer than expected.
Democrats in 2013 will be helped by a strong GOTV program for Governor attempting to turn those votes out.
After redistricting House District 31 appears to have become worse for Democrats, but with Scott Lingamfelter running for Lt. Gov and possibly not running for re-election regardless of his quest for higher office, District 31 could be worth watching in 2013.
What had previously been a split between the very Democratic area of Dale City and the very Republican area of Fauquier got rearranged in redistricting to protect Luke Torian in District 52. Now District 31 goes further east in Prince William County, picking up areas in Montclair and shedding some of the Dale City area. Democrats are going to have to find a different kind of candidate in this district, who can appeal to federal Democrats in Montclair communities.
More than any other district in the county, transportation is a key issue with many residents commuting to DC every day. With the right message, there will be plenty of swing voters in this district that swung 10 points higher for Mark Warner in 2008 than it did for Barack Obama in the same year. Until a candidate with the ability to aggressively fundraise announces, Democrats are going to have a hard time viewing this district as competitive. That will be a real shame if we get caught sleeping and this is suddenly an open seat in 2013.
District 50 and District 51
There is not much to say about either of these districts with Republican incumbents who have avoided any major mistakes. Both have a history of pretty aggressive campaigns but good results in Richmond. Both were rewarded by getting very favorable districts under the new map, so favorable that neither incumbent drew a challenger in 2011.
Rich Anderson in district 51 was first elected in the 2009 wave after hammering Paul Nichols for an incident with a police officer on a golfing trip years prior. Anderson even went so low as to mail Nichols’ social security number and personal information to voters in this district. Once he got to Richmond Anderson has done a solid job connecting with the business community.
Jackson Miller in district 50 was first elected in the special election to replace the late Harry Parrish in 2006 and narrowly defeated Jeanette Rishell. Rishell and Miller went for a rematch in 2007 and Jeanette got smeared in the illegal immigration fervor that swept the community. Miller took a strong stance with Corey Stewart and Greg Letiecq as this race got nasty.
After 2008 Jeanette came back for a 3rd try after Obama won the district with a solid margin. Despite the hardest work ethic I have ever seen from a candidate to raise money and a commitment to a strong field program Jeanette was not able to prevail. Miller has gloated about getting rid of the Manassas Park area of his district and will now hold this seat until he runs for the State Senate.
It’s too bad a statesman like Harry Parrish has been replaced with a hot-head like Jackson Miller.
District 52, represented by Democrat Luke Torian had been the most competitive seat in Prince William County for most of the last decade. What had previously run from the Fairfax to Stafford border along I-95 and west to pick up Montclair had been represented by moderate Republican Jack Rollison. Rollison was defeated in a 2003 primary against Jeff Frederick who attacked Rollison for supporting an increase to the sales tax. Democrats were caught sleeping and failed to produce a strong candidate against Frederick in 2003.
That changed in 2005 and 2007 with Supervisor Hilda Barg and former Dumfries Mayor Chris Brown; however Hilda’s age in 2005 prevented her from effectively campaigning and Chris Brown was unable to overcome the anti-immigration wave that doomed all Democrats in 2007.
Democrats finally picked up this seat in 2009 with Rev. Luke Torian. After Frederick had been elected as the Chairman of the Republican Party he fulfilled his first campaign pledge of his career and did not run for re-election as a Delegate. Chris Brown announced that he would run again but the establishment crowd chose to back Luke Torian and Brown chose not to file for a primary. Torian got an extra boost when Amy Frederick, long rumored to run in Jeff’s place, announced she would also not run for the seat. Dodging both Jeff and Amy Frederick, and Chris Brown, Rev. Luke Torian went on to face Rafel Lopez, an unimpressive Dumfries Town Council Member.
Despite Luke Torian’s aversion to fundraising and campaigning he was able to put together a strong campaign staff and received excellent support from the local committee. Despite the bad environment in 2009, Torian prevailed.
In his first session in the minority Torian did not cause any problems for Republicans in Richmond and was rewarded with a much safer district. Torian’s district now starts in Graham Park and Dumfries picks up his neighborhood on the north side of Montclair and runs into the Democratic stronghold of Dale City. In 2011 Torian again dodged any strong challenger and instead ran against a Hair Salon owner. Cleveland Anderson proved unable to raise any money and was unable to connect with any voters in this new minority-majority district.
Despite a less impressive campaign team and less support from the Democratic Committee Torian won re-election on the backs of strong efforts from over-lapping State Senate campaigns.
Much like the 2nd district above, Torian benefits greatly from strong local committees. Overlapping with Collin Davenport’s efforts in Woodbridge the 52nd district also contains Deb Gaiser and the ever growing Potomac District and Ernestine Jenkins of the Neabsco District. Deb is a strong worker who is committed to continuing the growth of the Potomac committee and Ernestine Jenkins continues to have an impressive ability to raise money, find volunteers and turnout voters for candidates she chooses to support.
Until someone grows tired enough of Rev. Torian’s more moderate to conservative tendencies to challenge him in a primary he will hold this seat for as long as he wishes. Democratic leaders should work with Torian to encourage him to take more progressive positions and support all Democratic candidates before he becomes a younger version of Chuck Colgan.
Mike McLaughlin, a native of Prince William County, Virginia, has been involved in Democratic politics since 2003. Having worked for Hilda Barg, Jeanette Rishell, the DPVA, Chris Brown and Babur Lateef, Mike has perfected the art of raising large sums of money and coming up short in Prince William County politics. Outside of Virginia, Mike has found more success as an advisor to Harris County political donors in an effort to win 15 county wide races in one of America’s largest counties in 2012.
Having gotten his start in politics by knocking doors on the mean streets of Northern Virginia suburbs Mike continues to relish in his role as a field hack who knows the importance of collecting accurate and robust data to inform campaign programs. The Columbus Dispatch ran a story in early 2012 where a 3 time failed Democratic opponent referred to him as a “DC Operative” and a “hired gun” who was “unlikely to change his stripes”; McLaughlin disputes all of these charges noting that he has never lived in DC nor does he own any stripes.
When not working on campaigns, McLaughlin can be found trying to make the perfect chili recipe and watching college basketball. To get more insights on Mike and to see his thoughts on politics, college sports and other things few people care about feel free to follow him on Twitter at @miklaughlin.
While currently a resident of Texas, Mike remains focused on efforts to turn PWC Blue in 2015.