Connolly Wins 11th District
Politicians discuss what contributed to the close race
Shortly after the concession of rival Keith Fimian in the 11th District Congressional race, Democrat Gerry Connolly met with reporters in his Annandale office to discuss the close race.
Seemingly showing no effects of a weekend hospital visit, the now-second term congressman spoke about the rematch with Fimian, whom he defeated by 12 points in 2008. In an election that was decided by less than a half a percentage point (49.22 to 48.79) Connolly bristled at the notion that he had barely survived the tidal wave of support that turned control of the House of Representatives over to Republicans.
"In the worst environment in 64 years for Democrats, when trees were falling all around, I won," Connolly said. "I like to think that's because of the relationships I have with my constituents. Developing those relationships is not an overnight thing. That's what public service is all about."
Though Republicans were widely successful in unseating Democrats across the country and the state-- including 9th Congressional Democrat Incumbent Rick Boucher, a candidate who wasn't seen as vulnerable before the elections -- Republicans have historically had a more difficult time winning in Fairfax County, said Stephen Farnsworth, assistant professor in the Department of Communication at George Mason University.
"The Tea Party message is not nearly as appealing in a county where large numbers of people work for the federal government or are federal government contractors," Farnsworth said. "The federal government hits them and their pocketbook in a way that you wouldn't see in almost any other congressional district in the whole country. The tea party message is a hard sell in the Washington area. That was part of the reason Fimian lost."
His slim victory in the swing district reflected Vienna and Fairfax County voters' desire for some kind of change -- regardless of which party's change they supported, Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman said.
" The race shows that our area has been not unlike other areas of the country, in that we've seen changes and that there are changes that need to be made" Seeman said. "We're feeling the effect of things like joblessness and the effects of the economy, maybe not as much as other areas, but that's why this election was so close."
While the economy was certainly the number one issue on voters' minds—Connolly reaffirmed his commitment to lowering the deficit—it was gun control that some believe turned the election in Connolly's favor.
Shortly before the election, remarks Fimian had made much earlier about the Virginia Tech shooting -- that some of the victims should have been "packing heat"-- resurfaced in an ad that Farnsworth believes was very effective in emphasizing Fimian's far conservative leanings. Fimian later apologized for the remarks.
"The outside money spent on that ad to portray Fimian as conservative extremist was money well spent," Farnsworth said. " It seems to me that's what made the difference in this race."
Despite Fimian's loss in this election, said Anthony Bedell, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, it's worth noting that Republicans have made progress in the region.
"We have to find a way to identify our voters to let them hear our message and get them out to the polls and vote for our candidates," Bedell said. "People forget that at the end of 2008, the Washington Post basically wrote off the county and said it was blue forever. We were able to come back and disprove that in 2009 where we had some great success. We need to look forward to 2012 when we'll have the presidential, House and Senate races all on the same ticket."
Bedell said he still thinks Fimian has a political future in the area.
"You don't get the amount of votes he received this year and raise the amount of money he raised, close to $3 million, and not have a political future," he said.
Fimian and his campaign did not return calls for comment.
As for Connolly, the closeness of the margin will have no impact on how he votes as he begins his second term.
"I got elected for my judgment. I'm not afraid to cast an unpopular vote. Running away from your positions is no way to win an election."
Oakton Editor Nicole Trifone also reported for this story.