Home Virginia Politics Could Democrats Lose the 31st State Senate District?

Could Democrats Lose the 31st State Senate District?

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It’s a rare occasion that I agree with the pro-Republican Arlington Sun Gazette, but today is one of those occasions. The subject of this rare event is whether Democrats could lose the normally super-“blue” 31st State Senate district.

It is not panic time yet, but Northern Virginia Democrats may come to rue the state Senate redistricting plan, at least as far as the 31st state Senate seat goes. In redrawing that district, they may tried to be more clever than they should have been.

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…if [Arlington County Board member Barbara] Favola makes it through to become the party nominee, she’s going to have to explain a whole lot of Arlington County Board actions over the past decade and a half. It’s going to be painful to watch her try to tell residents of Lansdowne in Loudoun County (part of the new Mighty 31st) why the Arlington board has been so adamant against widening I-66, just for starters.

Even worse, the Republicans have a super-wealthy candidate (I’ve heard hundreds of millions of dollars) who could cause major problems in a district that’s now significantly less “blue” than it used to be. Her name is Caren Merrick, and as I look at her website, three things jump out at me: 1) she’s a woman (obviously), which largely neutralizes Barbara Favola’s argument that people should vote for her to replace another woman, retiring State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple; 2) Merrick’s website makes her seem like an entrepreneurial, pro-business moderate/”soccer mom,” nothing hard-edged or right-wing at all; and 3) she’s active and engaged in all aspects of social media (blog, Twitter, Facebook). All of those are good things for a candidate to have, as is being a multi-millionaire.

The question is whether, as Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey argues, “The Democrats in the state Senate may have made a seminal mistake in redrawing their boundaries to move Merrick, a McLean resident, from the 32nd District into the new 31st,” as Merrick “has the money, the contacts and the drive to make a serious chase of it.” I don’t know, but I’m very concerned. And that’s the case no matter who the Democrats’ nominee ends up being.

I’m even more concerned about potentially losing the (formerly super-“blue”) 31st district if Democrats end up nominating someone who has never won a truly competitive primary or general election in her political career. In June 1995, for instance, Barbara Favola lost a primary to Paul Ferguson (3,747-2,705). In June 1997, she lost a primary to Jay Fisette (4,739-3,903). Favola finally won a special election in November 1997 to fill James Hunter’s unexpired term (Hunter fell seriously ill in 1997 and passed away in 1998) against Republican Ben Winslow (28,005-16,900). In that election, Favola was aided by being downballot from Don Beyer (D), who was busy crushing Jim Gilmore in Arlington by 12,500 votes (30,736-18,252). Since then, Favola’s faced only token opposition.

Given this electoral record, the question is electability: can Barbara Favola compete effectively against a potentially dynamite opponent like Caren Merrick, in a district that’s only in the 56% Democratic range, with an off-off-year election in which most people aren’t paying attention (or are on vacation)?  Just to be clear, this is a concern that’s not specific to any one candidate. However, it would be comforting to know that Democrats had the strongest possible nominee to put up against a Republican candidate with the potential appeal – and financial resources – of Caren Merrick. Personally, I’m not (yet) convinced we’ll have that with Barbara Favola. That’s just one of the numerous reasons I believe we should have a competitive primary for this nomination, not Dick Saslaw’s heavy-handed efforts to “clear the field.”