Are there any safe seats?


Alexandrians have the opportunity to vote as part of Tuesdays statewide primary to select congressional candidates for the November general election. In Alexandria, incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D) is running unopposed. Alexandrians get to help their fellow 8th District residents from parts of Arlington, Falls Church and Fairfax choose between Patrick Murray and Matthew Berry for the right to oppose Moran in November.

At first glance, the Republican effort seems futile. Few seats seem more safely Democratic than the one held by Moran. The congressman, though he has had his share of questionable personal issues in the past, balances them with savvy work for his district in a powerful position on the Hill and continues to win re-election by landslides. In 2008, with Barack Obama leading the democratic ticket, Moran won 68 percent of the vote to Republican Mark Ellmores 30 percent. In 2004, when George W. Bush carried Virginia 54 percent to John Kerrys 46 percent, Moran handily beat Republican Lisa Marie Cheney who ran an outstanding campaign 60 percent to 37 percent.

Conventional wisdom says it doesnt matter who wins between Murray and Berry, both of whom seem capable but anonymous. And yet, 2010 so far has proven to be a political year like no other. It started in January with Republican Scott Browns capture of the Massachusetts seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy, continued with Marco Rubios upset of Gov. Charlie Christ for the right to vie for the Florida senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez and most recently was embodied by Rand Pauls obliterating win over GOP establishment-backed Trey Grayson two weeks ago in Kentucky. Anti-incumbent, anti-big government voter anger is palpable, which is why incumbents of both parties dismiss the tea party movement at their own electoral risk.

Conversely, Republicans fall into a similar trap if they think this anti-government fervor means that the public actually likes them: The anger out there seems directed at incumbents of either party, particularly those easily labeled as big spenders. This anger has led to a record number of challengers for Congressional seats. More than 2,300 candidates have run for the House and Senate this year, the highest number in at least 35 years, according to Associated Press and Federal Election Commission reports. All of these challengers, plus voter anger, plus the fact that the opposition party almost always picks up seats after losing the presidency has Republicans poised to make gains this November. The question is how big will they be?

A canvassing of political analysts led the Wall Street Journals Digital Network to predict republican gains of between 20 and 35 seats in the House. CQ currently predicts Republican gains of five seats in the Senate. These would be substantial pickups, but would fall far short of the republican landslide being predicted by some and would leave control of both houses of congress in democratic hands.

Which brings us back to the 8th Congressional District and the question, Can a Republican win this seat? The honest answer is almost certainly no. But in this topsy-turvy political year, the seemingly impossible has already happened.