Down in defeat: Virginia Dems licking wounds after Election Day bloodletting

Tom Perriello was the underdog yet again, and yet again got caught up in a political wave. The only difference – this one forced him to swim against the current.

“I think what really torpedoed his chances here was the D next to his name,” said Isaac Wood, the House race editor at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, breaking down the Election Day loss of Perriello in the Fifth District.

The Fifth is a conservative district, “and 2010 has been a conservative year. It was pretty unlikely for a freshman Democrat to be able to overcome all of that, and across the country we really didn’t see hardly any examples of that occurring,” said Wood, who had along with other analysts foretold the Republican wave that led to the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms.

Perriello had been on the other side of the wave phenomenon just two years ago in the course of posting his upset win over long-time Republican incumbent Virgil Goode. The Democrat rode strong majorities in Charlottesville-Albemarle and a better-than-expected showing in Southside to victory in ’08.

Perriello got his big majorities in Charlottesville-Albemarle again in 2010, racking up a 12,500-vote margin in the localities, but Republican Robert Hurt rolled up a 20,000-plus-vote margin outside of the Charlottesville region and won districtwide with just shy of 51 percent of the vote.

The Perriello loss wasn’t that much of a surprise. What was a huge surprise was what happened down in Southwest Virginia, where 28-year Democratic incumbent Rick Boucher went down to defeat to Republican Morgan Griffith. Boucher had led Griffith by a double-digit margin in polls as recently as early October before the race tightened in the final couple of weeks.

“Rick Boucher survived 1994 and that Republican wave. But this Republican wave was even higher than that of 1994, and it washed away Rick Boucher,” said Wood, pointing to Boucher’s vote in favor of controversial cap-and-trade legislation that many in Southwest Virginia felt was dangerous to the local largely coal-based economy.

A third Virginia Democratic incumbent, 11th District Congressman Gerry Connolly, has a narrow 900-vote lead in his race against Republican Keith Fimian in a race that will surely go to a recount before a winner will be formally declared.

Assuming Connolly’s lead holds up and he is declared the winner, Virginia’s Democratic delegation in the House will be halved in January from six to three with the defeats of Perriello, Boucher and Second District Democrat Glenn Nye.

As bleak as things look right now, though, don’t count Democrats out looking ahead to November 2012.

“If you look at the swing between 2008 and 2010, it should prove to be a cautionary tale about extrapolating too much looking ahead to 2012. If Republicans were able to come back to the large degree that they were able to in just two years, perhaps Democrats can do the same thing,” Wood said.

“Remember 1994, which was the previous high bar for Republican gains in the House. Bill Clinton’s first midterm was an ugly one, but he was re-elected in 1996. Perhaps the same thing will happen to Barack Obama, or perhaps he will turn out to be like Jimmy Carter,” Wood said.

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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