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Virginia will play host to one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate elections this fall. Meanwhile, jockeying for seats on the Alexandria City Council is intense. Kojo chats with experts about the fallout from this week’s primary elections in Virginia and the battles shaping up for the fall.
- Michael Pope Northern Virginia reporter, WAMU 88.5; political reporter, Connection Newspapers; Author, "Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C." (The History Press)
- Bob Gibson Executive Director, Thomas C. Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, University of Virginia
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, a new theater for American cultural diplomacy. But first, the fallout from the latest political battles in the Old Dominion. Virginia held primary elections yesterday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd as many expected former U.S. Senator George Allen cruised to victory in his contest on the Republican side to reclaim his old seat, setting the stage for a general election match-up with former Democratic governor Tim Kaine that's already attracting nationwide attention. But the races that drew the most heat yesterday could have been the hyper local ones in Alexandria, where a group of Democrats duked it out in a bare-knuckle brawl for control of the Alexandria City Council.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to sort through the results is Bob Gibson. He is the executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Bob Gibson covered Virginia politics for more than 30 years as a reporter and a columnist for the Charlottesville Daily Progress. Bob Gibson, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. BOB GIBSONThank you, Kojo. Always good to join you.
NNAMDIBob, let's start with the race that's putting the Old Dominion in a starring role in the fight for control of the U.S. Senate. George Allen made easy work of the Republican field yesterday. What kind of shape is he in going into his general election match-up with Tim Kaine?
GIBSONWell, he and Tim Kaine have been waging an unofficial race against each other for 18 months now and now it's official. So the money that's been spent, which is significant on both sides, three and four million, is a fraction of what's going to be spent between now and November. And the official race is on, a year and a half into the race.
NNAMDIAllen lost his seat to Jim Webb six years ago during mid-term elections that were widely viewed as a referendum on the Bush administration. Now, he's running to get it back. And he's trying to use Tim Kaine's relationship with President Obama against him. Obama will also be on the ballot. How do you see the President affecting this race?
GIBSONWell, a lot of people in Virginia and elsewhere vote a ticket vote. And there'll be an awful lot of ticket voting in November across Virginia. So George Allen is hoping that Mitt Romney does very well in Virginia. And that he and Mitt Romney do very well together because chances are 90-some percent of their votes are going to be cast in tandem. Same with Tim Kaine, he hopes that President Obama does very well in Virginia and carries Virginia again. And even if he doesn't, even if it's a close race, there will be some split-ticket voting. And Tim Kaine is hoping that he can run ahead of the President.
NNAMDI800-433-8850's the number to call if you'd like to join this conversation. Are you a Virginia voter who participated in yesterday's primaries? What were the issues that ultimately swayed your decision? 800-433-8850. You can send email to Kojo@WAMU.org or go to our website Kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Joining us in studio is Michael Pope. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and The Connection newspapers and the author of the book, "Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C." Michael Pope, good to see you again.
MR. MICHAEL POPEThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIMichael, how in your view has Virginia changed since that race that George Allen lost to Webb in 2006? It was only two years after that when Obama carried Virginia and Tim Kaine declared old Virginny is dead.
POPEHow has Virginia changed since then? I would say it's probably become more purple in the sense that it's more closely divided. You see it in the polling, certainly. If you look at the Allen-Kaine race, all of the polls that I've seen in that race, especially recently, have said that it's essentially deadlocked between these two candidates.
NNAMDISo that brings me to this, Bob Gibson, where are the votes up for grabs in Virginia this fall, both in the U.S. Senate race and in the presidential race? People are calling Virginia a battleground state, a swing state. Where are the battlegrounds inside it?
GIBSONWell, there are a lot of new voters. Virginia is not a static place. It is a place that has 50 percent of its voters were born outside the state. Fifty percent of all Virginians were born either in another state or in another country. One in ten Virginians was born in another country. And surprisingly, 40 percent of those foreign-born Virginians were born in Asia. So there's a tremendous population that moves into this state every year. And there certainly has been since the last presidential election. And many of those voters are voters that the candidates will try to appeal to as new voters.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. To what degree do you think the Senate race and the presidential race are gonna be shaped differently by issues like federal spending than they would be in other parts of the country? We were watching a video interview this morning where Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch called defense spending Virginia's bread and butter. And he hinted that Obama might pay a political price with defense workers in Virginia if spending on defense takes a hit on Capitol Hill. What say you, Bob?
GIBSONI agree with Jeff on that. I think defense spending is a tremendous part of Virginia's economy, both in northern Virginia and in the Hampton Roads region. And people who are seen as defending it and maintaining it, people like John Warner, the former senator, are given hero status in Virginia. And people who can't defend it are considered less than able to speak out for their state.
NNAMDIMichael Pope, what sense did you get talking to voters in northern Virginia yesterday about what issues are likely to shape those races on this side of the state?
POPEWell, one voter I talked to yesterday was a tea party activist who had come out to vote for Jamie Radtke. And she was saying that she was opposing Allen because he was, in her view, you know, the template for this big-spending Republican. Those voters obviously were unsuccessful yesterday, but what was interesting, if you looked at the results, is that Radtke outperformed the polling. So, you know, she didn't win, but she did better than she was expected to, if you're looking at the polling, which indicates that the tea party has some strength in organizing.
POPEOtherwise, another interesting thing, if you talk about what's important to people in northern Virginia, you were talking about the bread and butter issues of defense spending. There is this sort of Damocles that's hanging over northern Virginia which is the sequestration, you know, will Congress make a deal on federal spending because if they don't there's going to be some cuts to contractors that will hit northern Virginia very hard. So I would imagine it would be in Obama's interests, certainly, to figure out a way to cut some sort of deal.
NNAMDIFamiliar faces are shaping the Senate race and they also prevail in yesterday's local primary in Alexandria, Michael, where intra-party warfare fractured the local Democratic Party in recent weeks. What happened in Alexandria yesterday?
POPEWell, I had one long-time Democrat activist who was active in city politics dating back to the 1950s. I asked him to give me a sense of how he thought about this election. And he said it was like a primary election like none other that he had ever seen in decades of looking at politics. The Democratic Party was fractured in the sense that there were people on all sides of major issues that have come before the city in recent weeks and years. And, you know, some of these candidates oppose the direction of the city and wanted to overturn City Hall. Throw the bums out was something you heard a lot of.
POPEAnd yet there was another slate of candidates that were incumbents, former incumbents, people that supported the way the city has been run and the latter won, which is to say, the incumbents won the day. The status quo is what's going to be at the front of the Democratic ticket.
NNAMDIDoes that mean that the controversy over development of the Old Town waterfront is now settled?
POPENo. No. That's a political question that will remain part of the discussion because the Republicans oppose that, as well as one of the Democrats that won yesterday, actually is in opposition to that. So there is still some division within the Democratic Party about that. Also it will play out in the legal sense 'cause there are two legal cases that are still unfolding.
NNAMDIMy understanding is that things got a little ugly last weekend when an attack mailer funded by the partner of one candidate surfaced. What happened there?
POPESo there was a mailer that went out to thousands of voters in Alexandria that was an attack ad. A glossy, colorful, put together piece of direct mail. And so it was an attack ad on one of the candidates, Boyd Walker, who felt like it might even help his chances because there was lots of negative reaction to an attack ad of a Democrat attacking another Democrat. The political pact that put this together has since been disbanded, but there are lingering questions about where the money came from. You mentioned it was the partner of one of the candidates that was behind the money.
POPEThat candidate did not win yesterday. And some are attributing that loss to the developments of the direct mail. There still may be some questions when the finance reports come out about where did that money come from. If it came from his campaign, that might be something that I’m sure lots of people would be interested in.
NNAMDIIf you're just joining us, we're talking about the results in primaries in the Commonwealth of Virginia yesterday. Michael Pope is a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and The Connection newspapers. Bob Gibson is the executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you think the president or Mitt Romney could do to help their causes as they hunt for voters in Virginia in general and northern Virginia in particular? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIBob Gibson, I'll start with you this time. Incumbents survived yesterday throughout the commonwealth. Did any of the Congressional candidates face serious threats in their primaries?
GIBSONNot really. The Congressional candidates are fortunate to have redistricting having just taken place that tends to strengthen their seats regardless of their party. The three Democrats in Congress in the House from Virginia and the eight Republicans in the Congress in the House from Virginia all had their numbers of the party identifiers in their party increased in their districts. Jim Moran has a more Democratic 8th district, as does Gerry Connolly, a more Democratic 11th district. Frank Wolf has a more Republican 10th district. And the incumbents were quite happy and it showed yesterday as they sailed to renomination.
NNAMDIIndeed, most accounts seem to indicate that Congressional districts have been made safer through redistricting. Do any incumbent members of Congress look like they've got a fight on their hands in the fall, Michael Pope?
POPEWell, if you look at northern Virginia, the only real competitive race would be Connolly, which is only marginally competitive. And as we just were talking about, the redistricting actually made it a little bit less competitive in the 11th Congressional district. So as is usually the case, the redistricting made it safer for incumbents. And I think that we're going to see that play out in this election cycle.
NNAMDIBob Gibson, what do you think Artur Davis, the African-American former congressman from Alabama, what do you think he's up to? And what do you make of his political future in northern Virginia? Do you expect we'll be talking more about him two years down the road? He lives in Virginia and he's apparently clearly indicating that he wants to run for something.
GIBSONWell, he may be looking at the 11th district seat. I think he lives in the 11th today. He may be looking at a new party, the Republican Party because Gerry Connolly has the Democratic party nomination sewn up. So there seems to be more of an opening on the Republican side. I don't know that out-of-state folks who have moved to Virginia have had a particularly successful time of challenging incumbent Virginia Republicans or Democrats. So I think he's got a tough road, but, you know, northern Virginia has more population turnover than any other part of the state and the 11th is one of those districts where the population keeps changing.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Mary in Arlington who says, "I'm a Republican voter in Arlington. Yeah, we exist. I'm a little miffed that I might not get a chance to participate in deciding the party's nominee in next year's gubernatorial race. If we nominate Bolling, that guy's going to lose. We need to go with The Cuch, my man Ken Cuccinelli. What's the latest on what the party's planning to do?" Do you know anything about this, Michael Pope?
POPEWell, I know there is some talk back and forth about what is the correct course of action to have a primary or a statewide convention. There is some thinking as to one way of nominating would help one candidate and another way would help another. And so I believe the current status is that they're going to stick with the primary -- or was it the -- actually I'm not sure what the current state of affairs is.
GIBSONActually they, right now, are set to have a primary, but the state central committee of the Republican Party is about to meet Friday night. And chances are, given the odds, may be a little better than 50/50 that they will switch to a convention.
NNAMDIAnd, Bob Gibson, to switch to another topic before we go, your employer the University of Virginia is going through an interesting patch right now. Over the weekend word trickled out that Theresa Sullivan would be stepping down as president after only two years. And the board has offered few details about why this has come to pass. As a faculty member at the university, what have you been hearing from your colleagues about this situation and what sense do you have from teachers and professors about how they feel about it?
GIBSONWell, first of all, I'm general faculty. I'm not academic faculty. And second of all, the town is in an uproar because there was a lot of action taken over the weekend without any consultation of any faculty that the faculty is aware of. People are scratching their heads or angry that a faction of the Board of Visitors has decided that this president apparently wasn't raising enough money, apparently wasn't executing a successful enough business plan. But she'd only been in the job for less than two years and she'd only recently hired her new top people in the job.
GIBSONSo people look at this and say she was an outsider. She didn't have long deep roots inside the State of Virginia or at the University of Virginia. And perhaps she didn't have the allies that normally an inside candidate might've had. It's -- the faculty is extremely upset at the way this was done and the fact that they weren't consulted.
NNAMDIYeah, I get the impression that there's a degree of puzzlement that now extends around the entire campus. Any idea at all whether -- after all we're in a political year -- whether there's any relationship to politics at all?
GIBSONWell, the governor has said that he did not do this, although it's the Board of Visitors that is gubernatorially appointed. He has appointed half the board and he has four more appointments coming the beginning of July. So it appears that his people on the board, with the combination of folks who were appointed by Tim Cain, engineered this forced resignation. And people will point to McDonald and say that he might've been able to stop it but he clearly didn't stop it and he's saying he didn't start it.
NNAMDIWe got an email from William, Michael Pope, who says, "The no-growth candidates failed to win much support outside of (word?) , see the election results by precinct which tell the whole story. The winning candidates were not single-issue candidates and were able to garner support citywide because they can understand and deal with a variety of complex issues applicable to all Alexandrians. Yes, development and redevelopment are hot issues in Alexandria, but it's telling that the candidate winning the most votes, Tim Lovain is a transportation planner and advocate of smart fiscally responsible growth." What do you say? Significant?
POPEIt's -- Tim Lovain got more votes than any other candidate, which is significant because the way the election works is you rank them top to bottom. So the fact that he got more votes than anyone else is definitely significant. Tim Lovain is a professional transportation planner and talks a lot about the streetcar probably more than any other candidate certainly talks about the issue of the streetcar and smart growth. In fact, he mentioned smart growth in his victory speech last night, so he cares about it that much.
NNAMDIMichael Pope. He is a reporter for WAMU and the Connection Newspapers. He's also the author of "Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C." Michael, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIBob Gibson is the executive director of the Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Bob Gibson, thank you for joining us. Oh, Bob's gone. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about a new theater for American cultural diplomacy. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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