ARLINGTON — It was over almost as soon as it began.
Not more than an hour after polls in Alexandria, Arlington and around Virginia closed, Congressman Jim Moran, D-8, held a comfortable lead over Republican opponent Patrick Murray with more than 30 percent of precincts reporting.
Even as vote tallies continued to trickle in an hour later, Moran gave his victory speech to a crowd of supporters assembled at The Westin Arlington Gateway, including Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and Vice Mayor Kerry Donley.
Despite the commanding 23-point win over Murray, Moran called election night 2010 a bittersweet moment for fellow Democrats across the nation. He predicted a tough road ahead for the party, president and country.
The politics of divisiveness and fear have gained ground on hope, he said. We can make no mistake: the next two years are going to be very difficult.
Meanwhile, Murray supporters gathered at an Arlington pub had little to cheer for, save for GOP seats gained in districts other than the 8th.
Moran never trailed by less than 20 points, but supporters grasped to the idea that Fairfax County, Murray’s self-proclaimed stronghold, would put them over the top; his campaign was indefatigable, sending requests for money even at 6:10 p.m., just before polls closed.
Murray refused to call it a hopeless defeat, even after giving his concession speech.
“We fought the best fight that’s ever been fought in a very tough district,” Murray said. “I think what we have here is a huge movement. So what we did is built a foundation, and we’ll be back.”
“Sometimes you lose some battles and win some wars,” he said.
In his acceptance speech Moran rejected claims his party had overreached since President Barack Obama’s inauguration, comparing their legislative successes with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In a year when many candidates campaigned against government intervention, Moran embraced health care reform, Wall Street regulation and the stimulus bill.
The soon-to-be 11-term congressman predicted Republicans running on an anti-government platform may have trouble governing. Moran also pledged to work with Obama to fight off any attempt at rolling back the party’s legislative gains.
We cannot allow the politics of fear and narrow-mindedness to win over the American legacy of … optimism, he said. We’re Democrats second and Americans first. This is our country and we’re proud to see it realize its full potential.
“Bittersweet” was a term thrown around lightly from both sides. Sondra Stevens, a three-year 8th District resident, said she was drifting away from the Republican Party when Murray came knocking. She volunteered for his campaign the first political work of her life.
“I felt hopeful he could help turn around the country,” Stevens said. “And I remain hopeful after tonight.”
Vestiges of what became a bitter rivalry manifested themselves one last time Tuesday. Murray’s campaign manager Mike Lane said he called Moran’s campaign to concede around 8:30 p.m., but the congressman did not take the call. Murray had not talked to the congressman before giving his concession speech, Lane said.
And keeping in line with a sharply fought campaign, Moran took a few final shots at his former opponent, saying that the combined lack of civic engagement and extremist Tea Party views doomed Murray’s candidacy.
For supporters of the Democrat with nearly two decades in Congress under his belt, the signs of another successful reelection bid came early. Glebe precinct captain John Lett said voters began arriving at the polls as soon as they opened Tuesday morning. In what’s considered a safely Democratic district, heavy voter turnout is a good thing, he said.
This year we noticed a sharp increase in voters [over 2009]. They came in rapid-fire as soon as polls opened, he said. I was never too worried our base wouldn’t show up.
An activist since the 2008 presidential election, Lett said he’s seen highs and lows for the party. Fears of a Republican takeover of both House and Senate kept the local base active and fiery, he said.
You’re always a little concerned [your candidate will lose], Lett said. But that’s a good thing. It keeps you focused.
Republican City Councilman Frank Fannon, who broke the mold on Alexandria’s city council earlier this year, remained hopeful but realistic about the political trends in the country.
“On a national level America is just renting Republicans for 24 months,” Fannon said. “We’ll see what’s happening in 2012.”