While Virginia’s political class – new and used – tries to make sense of what happened in on June primary elections for both Republicans and Democrats, let’s just get some things out of the way early.
- This was NOT a repudiation of House Bill 2313 that raised revenue to fund transportation.
- This was NOT an endorsement of House Bill 2313 that raised revenue to fund transportation.
It was, however, an object lesson in how long term incumbents lose.
To the first point on repudiation of HB2313 – the incumbent delegate, Speaker Bill Howell, carried the bill and won with 92% of the vote. Certainly, he drew an opponent for carrying the bill – but let’s be honest here – 8% of the vote is embarrassing.
Second point on the repudiation – the two Republican delegates who won – winning Republican Speaker Howell and Bobby Orrock received the fewest votes of the four that were challenged: Orrock – 1366, Speaker 1420. Losing Republican Bev Sherwood received 1492 votes, and Joe May (who lost by the greatest margin of the four) got the most votes — 2200.
So while HB2313 was not THE factor, it certainly was A factor. Without it, the four House members would probably not have been challenged. Remember, many other Republican delegates voted for 2313 and were not challenged.
Why then, did Sherwood and May lose?
A combination of factors:
1) The other guy got more votes. Give them credit – they got out and worked the districts and got more people to the polls on election day. It ain’t rocket science.
2) Both May and Sherwood lost BADLY in newer parts of their districts as a result of redistricting – May lost Frederick County precincts 70/30 and Sherwood lost Warren County precincts 66/34. In fact, Sherwood lost by a total of 78 votes but lost Warren by 94. Redistricting matters.
3) Other votes along the way. Delegates cast 2500 votes a session. After 20 years that’s 50,000 votes. Any opposition research firm worth its salt can find objectionable votes on issues that the political base cares about.
4) Context – remember Sherwood’s opponent is a retired physician and Obamacare is prominently mentioned on his website.
5) District changes from within – over the years the people within the district and party turnover. Over time, that matters. Incumbents show up at party meetings giving the team talk from Richmond about this and that which usually has NOTHING to do with the wants, needs, and deep interests of the people in the room. They are disconnected. The incumbents have lost intensity FROM their base. Sure the base voters “like” you but are they the same fired up people that candidate had when he or she ran the first time – 20 years ago? No. Not by a long shot.
Bev Sherwood and Joe May are two of the finest people I have ever known in politics and I would run through a wall for either of them. But I don’t live in the district.
All politics is local and personal, but mainly personal. Those who know Bev and Joe supported them. The problem most incumbents have – and most businesses – families, economies, countries, anything for that matter – is ATTRITION.
The slow bleed. The gradual decline of supporters. And the rise of intensity of competing interests within the same market. Perfect storms hit.
The timing here also favored the challengers. The incumbents weren’t ready for an election so soon after the vote on transportation so intensity was not on their side.
These primary losses for the Republican delegates was a combination of factors which were not shared by the incumbent delegates who actually won – with fewer votes.
Note to incumbents – ALWAYS RECRUIT PEOPLE TO YOUR ORGANIZATION. One per week will yield 50 per year. In a two year cycle that equals 100.
Always recruit. Find talented people to energize your organization — Or someone else will.
That’s the market.