By Erich Wagner
With Virginia’s primaries and conventions over, it’s time for state and local party machines to rev up.
Alexandrian Democratic and Republican camps say that job creation is their top issue in this year’s gubernatorial election, and they have already begun finding Northern Virginia supporters and encouraging them to vote in November.
In the gubernatorial race, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe will face off against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R). Republican pastor E.W. Jackson and state Sen. Ralph Northam (D) are running for lieutenant governor, while state Sens. Mark Obenshain (R) and Mark Herring (D) are vying for the office of attorney general.
Alexandria GOP chairman Tom Fulton called the Port City a vote-rich area, which candidates must court to be successful. He expects Republican candidates will tailor their message to focus on economic growth in Northern Virginia.
“While all parts of Virginia are gorgeous and all have their own attractions, this is where the jobs and the business is,” Fulton said. “Candidates will be open to questions and answer any question, but their message here is growth and opportunity, business, and jobs.”
Fulton said his organization is identifying likely Cuccinelli supporters as well as undecided voters.
“All [campaigns] have a common set of occurrences through the course of an election,” he said. “First, figure out who these people are and where they stand — voter identification — and try to get them to go vote.”
Dak Hardwick, the city’s Democratic chairman, said his strategy at this point is simply trying to ensure everyone who voted in November, when President Barack Obama carried the state, returns to the polls for the off-cycle election.
“This is all about educating voters that there is an election this year. Because of the off-year election and the president being re-elected last year, not a lot of people are thinking about it,” Hardwick said. “My sole purpose in life is to knock on every door and educate voters that there’s an election and that we have the strongest ticket.”
Like Republicans, Hardwick said Democratic candidates want to concentrate on job creation and the economy.
“Here in Northern Virginia, the real focus is going to be on jobs, especially with a slowdown in federal spending from sequestration,” Hardwick said. “[Our candidates] understand that the focus has to be on keeping Virginia as strong as we can, and that’s through jobs.”
Hardwick believes the Democratic ticket will resonate more with undecided voters because they were chosen via primary elections, whereas Republican candidates were nominated at last month’s convention.
“That’s what happens when you do this by convention and not by primary,” he said. “[Republicans] ended up nominating the far right of their party.”
While Fulton would have preferred a primary process, he’s pleased with the candidates. Accusations that the party’s ticket embraces far-right views, particularly regarding Jackson, are overstated, he said.
“We had a nice get-together for E.W. Jackson a couple of days ago at a home of a Republican supporter here in the city,” Fulton said. “… The papers like [The Washington Post] have given people a lot of information and a lot of Alexandrians are curious: ‘Is this who he is? Is he the person painted by The Post?’ I think they came away thinking he’s a different person than how he is being portrayed.”
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, wrote in a blog post that the use of a convention by the Republican Party was a calculated effort to ensure Cuccinelli would be the gubernatorial nominee over Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
But that move could have backfired with the selection of Jackson, who has never held public office and earned notoriety for inflammatory statements about gay marriage and Planned Parenthood.
“The Jackson problem can be managed by the GOP, but they need to be sure-footed about it,” Sabato wrote. “There’s always the potential for disaster. It’s an unwelcome, major distraction for Cuccinelli.”