By Erich Wagner (File photo)
Trying to figure out who has an edge among the increasingly crowded field of Democratic candidates to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8)? Your guess is as good as any state politics expert.
Filling the seat of Moran, who’s been a U.S. congressman for more than 20 years, has drawn the interest of many elected officials — past and present.
Mayor Bill Euille and state Sen. Adam Ebbin entered the fray last week, joining Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46), Arlington Delegate Patrick Hope, former Navy fighter pilot Bruce Shuttleworth, Delegate Mark Sickles of Fairfax County and even former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer.
Kyle Kondik, an analyst for the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said it’s next to impossible to predict a frontrunner with this many candidates lining up. Each contender has their pockets of support, but few metrics to measure their strength.
“It’s difficult to handicap at this point,” he said. “There’s not a lot of credible polling available for [U.S.] House primaries, so you just have to look at the field and say there are a lot of people who could potentially win.”
Kondik said this kind of candidate turnout is typical for a safely partisan seat held by one person for more than a decade.
“A safe seat in either party is really attractive,” he said. “You can win the nomination this one time, and you may end up able to hold the seat for many, many terms. And since there’s no runoff election, you could win a [U.S.] House seat that holds for decades with only 25 percent of the vote or something.”
He described Beyer as an interesting candidate, given his tenure as lieutenant governor from 1990 until ’98. But Kondik refrained from calling him a frontrunner.
“He’s fairly wealthy and has remained involved in Democratic office since his failed attempt to run for governor [in 1997],” Kondik said. “[But] he hasn’t been in office for a long time.”
While already holding elective office can be important — proving a candidate is capable of handling the job and the campaign — Kondik said in this case it’s not an advantage since virtually everyone vying for Moran’s seat has met that threshold. The key is to galvanize your area of support and encourage high turnout.
“There are so many different elected officials in this race, so there is not one person who obviously stands out,” he said. “[Since] it will just be Democratic primary voters, you don’t need a majority, just a certain segment. So it’s going to be a kind of a micro-targeted campaign.”
Kondik said this factor also could neutralize any fundraising advantage for candidates with statewide exposure, like Beyer and Herring, who served as state Democratic Party chair.
“It lends itself to a more local, grassroots campaign,” he said. “Money’s helpful, but running ads on broadcast TV in this race would be inefficient and also super expensive in the D.C. media market. People might do cable ads or something, but you may see more radio ads and mailers and that sort of thing.”