Loudoun County was in the eye of the election storm in 2012, with presidential and senate candidates strategically swinging through the area to win over voters in a region considered a political bellwether.
A year later, the attention of national political groups is back on Virginia, and particularly Loudoun. Political action groups are not only pumping money into the campaigns for Virginia’s most powerful offices, but also into races for several House of Delegates seats that both sides consider up for grabs.
With a handful of those districts in Loudoun, the county is again being touted as the home to key votes, this time with the chance to decide the political direction of the commonwealth.
As Mary Costello Daniel, a Democrat running for the 33rd District House of Delegates seat—one of those that could teeter toward either party—described it: “When it comes to statewide races, Loudoun is the Ohio of Virginia.”
Democracy for America, a liberal group founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), has thrown its support behind Democratic challengers in several House of Delegates races. The PAC gave $19,812 toward Jennifer Boysko’s race against Del. Tom Rust (R-86), $8,000 to Kathleen Murphy, the Democratic opponent to incumbent Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34), and $1,000 to John Bell, challenger to Del. David Ramadan (R-87).
Republican PACs have also written hefty checks for the legislative races. Dominion Leadership Trust, House Speaker Bill Howell’s PAC, donated $40,000 to 33rd District candidate Dave LaRock, after donating $35,000 to the longtime delegate he beat in the Republican primary, Joe T. May. The group also put $14,922 toward Comstock’s campaign and $11,935 toward Ramadan’s campaign.
Although all seven of Loudoun’s House of Delegates seats are held by Republicans, Democrats have good reason to think they can win back a few of those seats. The county’s voters backed Obama for president in 2008 and 2012, Democrat Tim Kaine for governor in 2005 and again for senator in 2012. But Republicans have plenty of reason to think positively also—Loudoun supported Gov. Bob McDonnell for governor in 2009 and elected an all-Republican Board of Supervisors in 2011.
Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the kick-off to the campaign season, but the national and statewide pressure pushed most candidates out the door to start their door-knocking and sign-posting months ago.
The Ramadan-Bell race in the Dulles area is one that has been in high gear since spring. Political groups with no ties to the 87th House District are keeping a close watch on the contest. Ramadan, a Republican businessman, just barely won the newly created district two years ago and that has Democrats hopeful they can woo voters this year.
“When you look at the margins, the fact that Ramadan won by 51 votes, certainly those are things that grab people’s attention,” Bell, a retired U.S. Air Force major from South Riding, said. He certainly hasn’t waited until Labor Day to campaign, he added. “I’ve been working hard all year because we have a delegate right now who’s focused on the wrong issues, so we’ve been out working hard to try to get us back on track.”
Of the national and statewide pressure, Ramadan said, “I welcome that tension.” He says it gives him more opportunity to let voters know what he has done—12 of the bills he introduced were passed, more than any other freshmen delegate. “I think I have done the job that my constituents voted me to do and will continue to do so, and we will see on Nov. 5 who gains the trust of the people.”
With two of Virginia’s most powerful Republicans, Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General and governor-hopeful Ken Cuccinelli, caught in allegations of ethical misconduct, Virginia Democrats have attempted to use that in their favor. Ramadan was initially called to be a witness before a federal grand jury as part of the investigation into allegations that McDonnell accepted more than $150,000 in gifts and loans from Star Scientific Chief Executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. The delegate also was under fire in May for not reporting a July 2012 trip to Taiwan worth about $7,000 that was funded by the Taiwanese government. In late May, Ramadan agreed to amend his disclosure report to list the trip as a gift.
Ramadan this week called the Democrats’ work to tie McDonnell’s decisions to all Republicans in Virginia “political tactics.”
“I think the voters of Virginia are wise enough and have seen these negative attacks year after year so they start to discount them and are really looking at the issues,” Ramadan said. “What I’m hearing is people care about jobs, they’re worried about sequestration, they care about education for their children, school security…transportation. That’s what people are talking about.”
Who will represent the 33rd District is no longer a given after conservative newcomer Dave LaRock ousted formally unbeatable Del. Joe T. May in the Republican primary.
LaRock has enjoyed a surge of financial support from groups such as Middle Resolution PAC ($20,105), the Republican Party of Virginia ($16,571) and the National Association for Gun Rights ($2,000).
Aside from fundraising, LaRock said he’s spent the summer walking neighborhoods in Clarke and Loudoun counties, and continues to hear that voters’ top concerns are job creation and restoring the economy.
“My background in business and, really, as a job creator connects well with that,” said LaRock, who started a construction company in 1986.
Daniel, an attorney from Berryville, got a slow start after entering the race at the filing deadline, just days after May lost his bid for the GOP nomination. But she said, over the summer she’s gotten a surge of support, both financial and otherwise. The fundraising status for all the campaigns won’t be known for another two months as the next deadline for financial disclosure reports is Oct. 10.
She said she hasn’t received major donations from groups like Democracy for America, but has “gotten a lot of support, both inside and outside of the district and unexpected support from Republicans and typically conservative groups like the Virginia Farm Bureau.”
The 33rd District includes the most conservative areas of Loudoun, but many political veterans say Daniel has a good chance. During a fundraiser event last week, Stephen C. Price, one of the organizers of the event said, “Infighting in the Republican Party has provided the opportunity for a Democrat to be elected.”
Other candidates vying to represent Loudoun in the House include Democrat Elizabeth Miller, who’s challenging Tag Greason (R-32), and Democrat Monte Johnson, whose opponent is first-term Del. Randy Minchew (R-10).
In an interview this week, Johnson acknowledged that the big name politicos’ attention on Loudoun races indicate their importance. But he said voters don’t care much about who’s throwing their money where.
“It’s great fodder for the political junkies, but our community doesn’t really care about which candidates Howard Dean or Rand Paul support,” he said, noting that voters want representatives who they can trust to stand up for their priorities.
Loudouners will continue to see candidates for Virginia’s most powerful seats stop in. Both Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, Democratic nominee for governor, have already made the county a priority—McAuliffe visited Raging Wire last month, and Cuccinelli spoke at Ashby Ponds last week.
Brian Coy, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, called Loudoun County “an important bellwether yet again,” and how often candidates’ campaign trails lead this way will be an indication of that.
And Republicans have put the county in a similar light. Anna Nix, Cuccinelli’s campaign spokeswoman, said the gubernatorial candidate is focused on Loudoun because it not only plays a critical role in the election but in Virginia’s economic future. “We have an aggressive ground game in the county and Ken has spent a vast amount of time in Leesburg and the surrounding communities.”
During the Loudoun County Republican Committee’s Aug. 26 meeting, Greg Stone made a plea for more volunteers to support Cuccinelli’s campaign in western Loudoun. He said area voters have a key role to play, predicting a Cuccinelli victory would “send a message that the conservative revolution starts right here in Virginia.”