The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, February 03, 2006

‘No reason to panic’ for state GOP; A1

Party leaders respond to calls for new blood

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

WINCHESTER — They lost the race for the Executive Mansion and nearly lost the race for attorney general. They’ve lost some seats in the House of Delegates and suffered a resounding defeat in a special Senate election just this week.

But political scientists, pundits and elected officials all say it’s way too early to be writing the obituary of the Virginia Republican Party or its leadership.

Tuesday’s 2-to-1 loss of Loudoun County Supervisor Mick Staton to Democrat Mark Herring in the formerly Republican 33rd Senate District was tough for the GOP faithful.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chad Dotson, who runs the influential Commonwealth Conservative blog, says the 33rd District race isn’t a good indicator of where the party stands as a whole.

“However, over the last couple of years, it has become clear that the Virginia GOP is somewhat adrift, and there are some questions we need to ask ourselves,” he wrote earlier this week.

Others observers have called for changes in party leadership, or for the party to swing toward the center or out to the right.
Speaking the morning after the special election, GOP Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin thanked the Northern Shenandoah Valley’s Republican women for standing by her.

“Whenever we’ve had a low moment, I can count on that telephone of mine to ring, and it’s one of you ladies saying, ‘You’re doing a great job!’ even when I’m feeling like I’m not doing such a good job,” the Winchester resident said. “You all remind me of why I’m doing this.”

Those calling for new blood need to look at the bigger picture, according to the state’s highest-ranking Republican.

“What I would say to those folks is ‘There’s no reason to panic,’” said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, in an interview with the Daily.

“There’s no reason to change leadership at the top of the party,” he said. “Kate Griffin has done a great job as chair … she’s a great spokesperson for the Republican Party of Virginia.”

“Wholesale changes” in the party would be too much, he added.

“I think we’ve actually performed fairly well in most parts of the state,” Bolling said. “I think we’ve got some challenges in Northern Virginia. I think that’s really what our focus has to be as we look to the future.”

“I knew [Tuesday’s special election] would be a tough race, but I thought our candidate would do better than he did,” he said.
Herring is a former Loudoun County supervisor who lost a bid to unseat Sen. H. Russell Potts, R-Winchester, in the 27th District in 2003.

There’s no indication at all that Virginians are headed from red to blue, said Ken Stroupe, chief of staff at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

But “what it tells you is that you’ve got to have the right kind of Republican to win in Northern Virginia,” he said.

That hasn’t been lost on Bolling.

“The one thing that’s clear to me is that we’ve got some work to do in Northern Virginia,” Bolling said.

Losing a Lynchburg-area House of Delegates seat also stung, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected, he said.

“We knew that would be a tough seat to hold,” Bolling said. “That’s why Gov. [Tim] Kaine appointed [Del. Preston Bryant to be Secretary of Natural Resources].”

The tale of the tape in Lynchburg bears out Bolling’s observation — the Democratic establishment came out with wallets blazing for now-Del. Shannon Valentine, D-Lynchburg.

The House Democratic Caucus donated $100,000, while Kaine’s inaugural committee chipped in another $37,500. Former Gov. Mark R. Warner’s One Virginia PAC kicked in $10,000.

The air war was even more one-sided. Valentine spent $164,000 on broadcast advertising in one of the state’s larger media markets, while Harrington spent only $49,000.

Closer to home, the blowout in the 33rd Senate District just goes to prove that the GOP has to rethink Loudoun County strategy — and that “all politics is local,” said Craig Brians, a political scientist at Virginia Tech.

“I wouldn’t draw any statewide conclusions from this,” he said. “People are super-frustrated with transportation issues in particular, and they’re willing to pay more not to have to sit so long in traffic.”

Over at Staton’s headquarters, staffers spent Thursday dealing with the personal side of coming up short at the ballot box — cleaning out the office.

But Kellie DeRouen, Staton’s campaign manager, said it’s not the party’s fault that Staton isn’t in the Senate this morning.

“The Republican Party [of Virginia] helped us. That’s the bottom line,” she said. “They called us on a regular basis and asked us what we needed.”

Even with boxes of stuff stacked up to be moved out, DeRouen said she wouldn’t change the way they ran the brief race.

“I just don’t think it was our time,” she said.