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Posts Tagged ‘93rd District’

This morning, citizens across Virginia awake to a day much like any other.  The sun has risen, the temperature is fairly warm, and life proceeds steadily onward.  The politicos among us, still weary from the toils of yesterday, look to the results of Election Day and are instilled with either hope or dread depending on one’s perspective.  So what are the results?

The biggest topic is the Virginia Senate.  So far, the Republican Party has netted one seat with Bill Stanley’s narrow win over Roscoe Reynolds in the 20th district.  The 17th district is still too close to call with Republican Bryce Reeves currently enjoying a 136-vote lead over incumbent Edd Houck.  It seems very likely that a recount in that district is coming soon.

Although the GOP has made gains, it certainly isn’t the slam-dunk that many conservative and Republican activists had hoped.  Assuming Houck emerges victorious, the Democrats will retain control of the Senate.  If Reeves wins, then the chamber will be evenly split with Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling likely casting the deciding tie-breaking vote in many circumstances.

One question that has troubled me throughout the campaign is, assuming the Republicans gain control of the Senate (or have a 20-20 tie), who will lead the party in that chamber?  Will it be a fiscal, social, and constitutional conservative?  Or will it be someone in the mold of former Senator John Chichester?  Even though I’ve been told by several sources that we will not return to such days, unless the GOP chooses a leader based on conservative principles, and not merely on seniority, I remain concerned.

Before moving on to the other races, I believe it is important to recognize that conservatives could have made their gains greater, but they spread their resources too thinly.

Looking at the unofficial results, the GOP ran pretty close campaigns in the 1st, the 33rd, the 36th, the 37th, the 38th, and the 39th.  However, the party devoted efforts to wide range of other races and thus ended up short in so many places.  As Bearing Drift stated in the most recent issue of their magazine, the 36th and the 38th districts leaned Republican and yet both were lost.  If money and volunteers were used in a wiser fashion, would the GOP now have a 21 or 22-seat majority instead?  To use a sports analogy, why gamble so much and swing for a homerun when a simple base will win (or at least tie) the game?

Here at home, Republican Bryan Hutcheson will be the new Sheriff of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.  Even though the city was close, Hutcheson captured an amazing 66% of the vote in the county.  Congratulations to Mr. Hutcheson and his campaign team for their decisive win.

Moving north, Craig Orndorff emerged the top vote getter in the four-way race for Soil and Water Conservation Director in Shenandoah County.  Best wishes to him in his new position.

With the House of Delegates firmly in Republican hands, not too much attention has been given to that chamber.  However, given my ties with a particular House of Delegates seat, the last area of interest is the 93rd district.  As I mentioned previously, this district became a little more Republican after redistricting.  Mike Watson of Williamsburg capitalized on shift by defeating freshman Delegate Robin Abbott of Newport News.

Over all, things haven’t changed too much here in Virginia.  I’m sure pundits from both sides of the aisle will spin the results to declare victory for their cause boldly stating that either President Obama has been repudiated or vindicated.  Personally, I don’t think this election demonstrated a huge shift, but rather serves as another testament to Virginia’s conservative-leaning principles.

As the ink begins to dry on Election Day 2011, we prepare for 2012.  Given the limited space on my car, today is the annual ritual of bumper sticker removal.  So long Delegate Wilt and Senator Obenshain.  I expect to see both your names on my vehicle for the 2013 cycle.

The ceaseless political battle continues again soon.  But, for the moment, let’s come together as Virginians united and savor a respite.  The time for reflection and introspection is at hand.

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Back in 2009, then political novice Robin Abbott unseated the 21-year Republican incumbent Delegate Phil Hamilton of the 93rd district.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the two most important factors determining this outcome were the Old Dominion University scandal and the general Democratic leanings of the 93rd.

I’m not going to rehash the ODU matter here, but rather reexamine the claim that the old 93rd is generally hostile to Republican candidates.  First, we have the 2009 House of Delegates election itself, where Democrat Robin Abbott captured 53.94% of the vote as compared to Hamilton’s 45.6%.  Now obviously having served for 21 years, Hamilton had a clear name ID advantage to Abbott, but without further thought one may merely conclude that the result was completely due to hostility as a result of ODU.  But we should always look at the numbers.

In the 2009 election, the 93rd comprised the northwestern portions of Newport News as well as two eastern precincts of James City County.  While both James City County precincts were above Hamilton’s overall percentage (48.34% for Roberts A and 63.17% for Roberts B), he only won two precincts in Newport News (Deer Park 50.81% and Watkins 56.98).

How do these numbers compare to another contest at the same time, say the 2009 Governor’s race?  In Roberts A & B, McDonnell captured 57.42% and 72.85% of the vote respectively.  In 93rd portion of Newport News, he exceeded his statewide average of 58.61% in only one precinct, Watkins.

Looking back to 2008, how did McCain/Palin fare in the 93rd?  I should first mention that they won 46.33% of the vote in Virginia.  Only in Roberts B (68.23%) and Watkins (55.45%) did they get a higher margin than the statewide average.  Some precincts in Newport News, such as Epes (19.15%), Greenwood (23.42%), McIntosh (23.79%), Lee Hall (28.47) and Reservoir (31.76%), they didn’t even manage to get a third of the vote!  Given these numbers over the past several years, I think you can argue that the 93rd was not a friendly place for Republican candidates.

Well, how have things changed with redistricting?  This new 93rd has lost many precincts in Newport News while picking up about 12,500 James City County residents, about 14,000 Williamsburg residents, and about 5,300 York County residents.  Although the citizens of Williamsburg are more liberal than average Virginian, so too are James City County and York County residents considerably more conservative.

Let’s discover what was lost and gained in Newport News.  The precincts of Epes, Palmer, Deer Park, and Watkins were completely eliminated from the 93rd while Reservoir was split between the 93rd and 94th.  While the removal of Epes should be welcome news to Republican challengers, Palmer, Deer Park, and Watkins were Hamilton’s top three showings in the city.  Ouch!  In exchange, the 93rd picked up the Bland precinct.  However, that precinct performed well below average for Republican Delegate Glenn Oder in 2009 (48.12% to his typical 67.62%).  Losing Epes got rid of 7,800 people who typically don’t support Republicans, but shaving off 8,000 in Deer Park, 6,200 in Palmer, and 5,500 in Watkins who are far more favorable to the GOP will certainly sting.  Plus the new 1,400 people in Bland won’t likely be doing Republicans any favors.  I don’t think it is a stretch to say that it will be nearly impossible for a Republican to win a majority of these Newport News sections of the 93rd.  This exchange should significantly bolster Abbott’s numbers here in 2011.

What about Williamsburg?  Having lived in Williamsburg for four years while attending the College of William & Mary, I can personally tell you that the city is not particularly favorable to conservatives.  For example, in 2009 Stan Clark, the Republican delegate candidate, fared 4.5% poorer on average in Williamsburg than the rest of the district while Bob McDonnell posted numbers that were 13.4% below normal.  In 2008, McCain ended up almost 12% worse than his state average.  Gee, things don’t seem to look too good for Republican contenders do they?

Well, let’s move on to James City County and York County.  Unlike the cities, these areas contain a much higher percentage of Republican voters.  With the exception of the precincts of Roberts C and Jamestown B (although 2009 delegate candidate Clark did better there too), delegates, governors, and presidential candidates drew considerably more support from these new precincts of the 93rd than they enjoyed on average.  For the biggest example, in the Harwoods Mill precinct, now split between the 93rd and 91st, McDonnell got a 17.85% boost and McCain got a 22.19% increase from the norm.

So what’s the bottom line?  Well, in this new 93rd Republicans will suffer greatly for the additions and subtractions in Newport News, not to mention the addition of Williamsburg.  The influx of voters from James City County and especially York County will help a lot, but will they be enough to offset the Democratic swing of the cities?  Possibly.  For comparison purposes, Bob McDonnell won about 52% of the vote in the old 93rd and would have won about 54% in this new one.  Although both numbers are below his state average, the fact remains that he emerged victorious in either scenario.

This year, Republican businessman Mike Watson is challenging Democratic freshman Delegate Robin Abbott.  This race will hinge on a number of factors besides just the numbers listed above.  Has Abbott done a good job reaching out to her constituents?  Are they pleased, upset, or apathetic with her performance in the House?  Has she bolstered her name ID?  What sort of connections can Watson draw upon in the 93rd?  And which side will have the greater number of volunteers and a motivated base?

Given my connection with Williamsburg and my employment in the 93rd during the last cycle, you can bet that I’ll be keeping my eye on this race.  Now in fairness whether Robin Abbott is retained or replaced in the House of Delegates, either outcome will have little impact in the balance of power in that chamber.  Nevertheless, I expect liberal and conservative activists from Williamsburg, James City, Newport News, and York will have their hands full with this one.

I’d rate the 93rd a toss up right now.  The numbers slightly favor the Republicans but the incumbency factor boosts the Democrats.  Either side has the potential to win; I just don’t think that it’ll be easy for anyone.

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The Numbers Game

How does a Republican candidate win in a Democratic district?  John McCain won approximately 38% of the vote in the 93rd district back in 2008.  Jim Gilmore only managed 28% in the same year.  George Allen captured approximately 45% of the vote in 2006.  Given that all of the percentages are below the statewide average, one could hardly call the 93rd a Republican friendly district.  Of the 13 precincts in the 93rd, what, if any, of the precincts are favorable to Republicans?  Looking back at past elections, George Allen narrowly won Palmer, narrowly lost Kiln Creek, and convincingly won both Watkins and Roberts B.  John McCain faired worse, only managing to win Watkins and Roberts B and not really in any danger of winning any others.  The district encompasses the two easternmost precincts of James City County and the northeast section of Newport News with the exception of the Saunders precinct, which is in the 96th.  For the record, the precincts in the district are:  Roberts A & B in James City County, and Epes, McIntosh, Reservoir, Richneck, a portion of Lee Hall, Windsor, Greenwood, Palmer, Kiln Creek, Deer Park, and Watkins in Newport News.  Of these, Delegate Hamilton won Roberts B, and Watkins, narrowly winning Deer Park, and a close loss in Roberts A. Given that the district trends Democratic, one might wonder how Delegate Hamilton was able to gain and hold onto power for so long.

The answer to this question has several parts.  First, one should recognize that incumbents have an inherent advantage over their opponents.  They have higher name recognition and presumably more accomplishments.  I would also argue that from what I saw, Delegate Phil Hamilton maintained a favorable rapport with the people of the 93rd, taking time to listen to his constituents and alerting them to his progress in Richmond.  The second is that the location of the 93rd has shifted over the years.  Although I cannot find data for how the 93rd looked back in 1988 when he was first elected, comparing it to the district in the 1990s, one can clearly see a shift.  Delegate Hamilton often referred to the 93rd as a “donor district”, meaning that the more Republican or conservative areas of this district had been given to other districts, presumably in the hopes of electing more Republican/conservative legislators.  Before the 2000 redistricting, the 93rd was further east.  It contained none of James City County and the following precincts in Newport News:  McIntosh, Reservoir, Richneck, Deer Park, Nelson, Palmer, Saunders, a small bit of Warwick, Beaconsdale, and South Morrison.  I should mention that the precinct known as Beaconsdale no longer exists.  According to the Newport News Board of Elections, the polling place was not handicap accessible, so it was absorbed into the Deer Park precinct.  What does all this mean, you ask?  Looking back at both the Allen and McCain elections, let’s assume the 93rd is in this old shape (including all of Warwick, no absentee ballots, and no write ins).  Do these candidates fair any better?  John McCain reaches 40%, Jim Gilmore improves to 29% and George Allen reaches 47%.  Although none win this old district, they do capture a higher percentage.

Let’s next consider the Governor’s race in the 93rd.  While the delegate’s race was 54% in favor of Robin Abbott, McDonnell won about 52-53% in that same district depending on the source.  He handily wins the precincts of Palmer, Kiln Creek, Deer Park, Watkins, Roberts A and B, narrowly wins Richneck, and barely loses Windsor.  Now why did he do better than Phil Hamilton?  Was he better known?  Did he run a better campaign?  Was his opponent easier to beat? (Answer:  yes!) Or was it that he wasn’t tarred by a scandal?  For comparison’s sake let’s run McDonnell in this old 93rd.  Does he similarly get a one to two point bump in the polls as the other candidates did?  Indeed the trend holds true with McDonnell gathering about 54% in this relic district.  However, applying these numbers to Phil Hamilton does not result in victory.  While it raises his percentage from 45.6 to around 47.6%, and dropping his opponent likewise, Robin Abbott would still win with a slim 51.94%.

So what should we take home from the numbers game?  Although the 93rd has undeniably gotten worse for Republicans since redistricting, it is possible, although difficult, for Republicans to win here.  In a great Republican year like 2009, Bolling ran about even and Cuccinelli won 51%.  The statistics clearly prove that if Delegate Hamilton was able to run alongside Bob McDonnell (or Cuccinelli, and maybe even Bolling) and capture all of the same voters, he would be returning to the House of Delegates next year.  Unfortunately ODU and the resulting aftermath dashed any hopes for this scenario.

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The Opposition

As stated in Part II of this series, in the 93rd, we had opposition from a number of sources.  Not only did we have to contend with the Robin Abbott campaign, but also were attacked by the Democratic Party of Virginia, various interest groups, and Steve Shannon.  However, the focus of this piece will be the Robin Abbott campaign.  On October 28, Not Larry Sabato wrote, “Robin Abbott has run a great campaign, and Phil Hamilton is going to jail no matter what the result of this election is.”   I don’t know how involved and informed he was about that race, but I completely disagree.  As far as I could tell, the Robin Abbott campaign was not well run.  Now I know the temptation to apply the lens of the victor to this situation; the Abbott campaign won so it must have been well run, but having a good deal of first hand experience, I would beg to differ.

First of all, it was difficult to determine what was the central message the Robin Abbott campaign hoped to convey to the voters.  Other than her life story, which I heard multiple times in debates, campaign literature, and at rallies, they never seems to latch onto a key issue or position.  Given the ODU situation, obviously ethics reform would be fertile ground, and although it did come up from time to time, it was certainly not an overriding theme.  The Abbott campaign did bring up the issues of transportation, health care, and education; however for each issue they were unable to best Delegate Phil Hamilton.

Now consider the debates.  During the final months of the campaign Phil Hamilton and Robin Abbott were slated for a series of five debates or forums, four in Newport News and one in Williamsburg.  Unfortunately for the Abbott campaign, Phil Hamilton is a polished and professional debater who is well versed in just about every issue facing the state and community.  Below, in two segments, you will find the first twenty minutes of the League of Women Voters debate in Williamsburg on 10/14/09.  I wish I could have provided the entire debate, however my camera ran out of memory.  While Phil Hamilton offered clear examples of his work in the legislature and his plans for the future, Robin Abbott was more general and vague.

Although there were two more debates scheduled after the Williamsburg debate, one with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the other at Robin Abbott’s alma mater of CNU, both the candidate and the campaign failed to appear.  Even though losing a debate is unquestionably detrimental to the campaign, I think an even greater failure is to not even show up.  The debate organizers obviously spent considerable effort in creating, moderating, and publicizing the event.  How disrespectful is it to them and their time?  Fortunately for the Abbott campaign, the local media didn’t call foul on them.

What about coordination between the Abbott campaign and other related efforts?  While going door-to-door, it was a very rare occurrence to find Abbott literature with either Deeds or Democratic ticket information.  But why wouldn’t they work together?  It is a democratic favored district.  After all, Barack Obama won the 93rd district by a convincing margin losing only the precincts of Watkins in Newport News and Roberts B in James City County.  Although the numbers are not precise, if we ignore absentee ballots and include all of the Lee Hall precinct, Obama won 17735 to McCain’s 10838.    Now maybe you would argue that Deeds was a weak candidate (which he certainly was).  Even still, if Democratic volunteers and staff delivered both Abbott and top ticket lit together, think of the time that they could save.  Think of how many more houses they could cover.  Even though they shared office space in city center, they apparently didn’t combine efforts.  Compare this decision with the Hamilton/RPV campaign.  Except for the brief period of troubles, the Hamilton campaign handed out McDonnell materials and the RPV did likewise.  Does that mean the two campaigns were joined at the hip?  Certainly not…it just made commonsense to work together for the betterment of both.  Even though I’m sure that seeing Hamilton lit together with McDonnell lit may have cost a vote or two to one side or the other, I’d easily wager that it garnered far more benefit to both.

From what I both heard and witnessed, the Abbot campaign struggled for volunteers throughout the season.  I offer the following pictures for an example.  The first two are from the Denbigh day parade of September 19.

Denbigh Days Volunteers Hamilton

The parade of white shirts are folks dressed in Phil Hamilton for Delegate attire.  Now compare that number to the Abbott supporters in the next picture.

Denbigh Days The Abbott Campaign

The simple truth is that few people were truly excited about the Abbott campaign.  Rumor has it that they had to pay people to go door to door for them.  The next picture is of the Newport News Fall Festival of 10/4/2009, one month before the election.  Beside our Republican tent sat the Democrats.  Throughout most of the festival, their tent was empty.  No one was there to handout information, yard signs, or the like.  You could feel the electricity in the air!

Democratics Fall Festival

For the reasons of no coherent campaign message, a series of lackluster and no-show debates, poor coordination, and low volunteer recruitment, is why I believe the Abbott campaign was not well run.  Now maybe I’m completely wrong about my assessment.  Several weeks ago I sent an email to Delegate-elect Abbott offering her the opportunity to talk about the campaign on this website.  As of this posting, I have gotten no reply.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.

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Searching for Volunteers

During the campaign my gmail away message often read, “searching for volunteers”.  One simple truth to campaigning is that you can always use more volunteers.  Another one is that recruiting volunteers is not an easy task.  Volunteer recruitment essentially requires convincing a person to do something that he or she was not planning on doing, actively promoting the campaign.  You want a bumper sticker?  Take one…but while you’re here, can you make some phone calls?  You call yourself a conservative?  Then come door-to-door with us today!

By comparison, the Ron Paul campaign was a whole different ball of wax.  Realizing the importance of his candidacy, voters independently created meetup groups to organize and mobilize.  One didn’t have to uncover every rock searching for volunteers for these meetup groups were an ample supply of eager recruits.  However, unlike traditional volunteers, meetup groups were far more resistant to campaign authority. You didn’t have to convince them to volunteer; instead you had to guide them to work with the campaign in proven and productive ways.  Sometimes it was a bit like herding cats.

So where is a good place to look for volunteers?  How about the city and county Republican committees?  After all, these people have shown at least a marginal level of interest and commitment.  Sadly, committees are not a good source of volunteers.  First of all, the average age of committee members are much higher than your average age of volunteers.  Once you reach seventy years old, you’re much less likely to be physically able to go door-to-door.  Second, some people have the mistaken impression that committee membership is sufficient involvement to elect like-minded candidates.  How many undecided voters can you reach in a committee meeting?  Now don’t think that I must hate committees just because I can’t wring them dry for volunteers.  Certainly not!  They are indispensable and many committee leaders are the hardest working, most motivated, and most dependable people you will ever meet.  Seek out the committees for help, but if your search begins and ends there you will be woefully short of help.

Regardless of what most people will tell you, just about everyone has free time that they can devote to the campaign.  Unfortunately, politics is not a high priority for a lot of the working class.  Perhaps they have family concerns, issues with their jobs, or maybe they are jaded and don’t feel that their efforts will have much of an impact on the election.  Therefore, it is best to find a younger demographic, the college and high school students.  I immersed myself in politics during my high school years and spent many an afternoon, evening, and weekend at the local headquarters.  Drawing from the 2006 election, no group worked harder or made a greater impact than the JMU College Republicans.  They selflessly donated vast amounts of time to re-elect Bob Goodlatte and George Allen.  If every CR group across the state were as motivated as JMU was then, imagine what we could accomplish.  With that experience in mind, I had high hopes for the college students of the 93rd.  Now there aren’t any universities within the boundaries of the 93rd, but there are two in neighboring districts:  William & Mary in the 64th, and Christopher Newport in the 94th.

As a William & Mary alumni and a former W&M CR, I eagerly sought help from the WMCRs.  I first met these folks at the annual activities fair, a place where student groups recruit new blood from the incoming freshmen class.  The leadership seemed enthusiastic to be of assistance and we slated Delegate Hamilton to speak at their first meeting.  Several days before the meeting, the ODU bomb dropped.  In truth, the news broke earlier, but I guess it reached the WMCRs then.  As a result, they rescinded our invitation.  I was crestfallen.  I wrote email after email and made many phone calls in hope of restoring their favor.  None proved successful.  Although in retrospect, it may have been foolish, I regarded the William & Mary snub as a great failure, my great failure.  This memory lurked within my conscience throughout the remainder of the campaign.  Once I made uneasy peace with the situation, I read more troubling news out of my alma mater.  In the September 23 issue of The DOG Street Journal, the online publication brought this matter into the public eye.  “There is one local race, Democrat Robin Abbott versus Republican Phil Hamilton for the 93rd District’s Delegate that only the Young Democrats – not the College Republicans – are involved in.” But the article didn’t stop there, oh no.  Further on, the chairman of the WMCRs weighed in.  “’Because of the allegations against Phil Hamilton, we have decided to stay out of that race,’ said Chappell. ‘That was a tough decision for us, but we thought that was in our best interest. We researched that extensively; I talked to the campaign manager. Bob McDonnell has asked him to resign, pretty much every major statewide official [h]as asked Delegate Hamilton to resign. I hope he’s cleared of these allegations, but as long as they’re on the table and they seem pretty credible, we decided to stay out of this one.’”  I could write a good bit about what I thought of this slight, but I’ll leave you to draw the conclusions here.

On the other hand, the Christopher Newport College Republicans were a great boon to the campaign.  The walked, they talked, they attended events.  Although the group never showed up in massive numbers, the constant dedication offered by their chairman and a handful of others was extremely helpful and encouraging.  Both the campaign and myself owe a debt of gratitude to CNUCRs.  Thank you, Cole, and thank you, CNU!  May your group flourish and continue to recruit motivated and hardworking leaders.

But let’s not forget about the high school students, shall we?  During the final weeks and months of the campaign, students from the local high schools trickled in on Saturdays and weeknights.  Although Denbigh Baptist provided the most, they came from just about every local high school in the 93rd and neighboring districts.  Unlike my days at Harrisonburg High, many classes now require their students to be politically active.  Each student in a government class had to volunteer a certain number of hours.  Personally I think the idea is great.  By immersing yourself in politics at an early age, before you can even vote, I think you build a far greater appreciation for the government and civic involvement.  With such embedded ideals, one is far less likely to see voting as a burden as far too many these days do, but as sacred right and a duty to be taken seriously.

The last point I want to make about volunteers in the 93rd concerns competition.  Unlike previous campaigns with which I have dealt, the Hamilton campaign had to compete with not only fellow delegate races, but with the McDonnell, Bolling, Cuccinelli, and RPV efforts as well.  It became a constant struggle to secure volunteers into the Hamilton camp before they pledged themselves to another race.  Although there was some overlap between statewide and delegate races, I still would have preferred far greater coordination.  There were Hamilton volunteers, there were RPV volunteers, and, for the most part, they remained in these separate camps.  Although you can never have enough volunteers, having been the last full-time staffer brought into the Newport News office, I felt that I had gotten too late a start in the volunteer recruitment game.  The RPV had snatched up  many choice volunteers before I arrived.  As such, I felt that I was constantly behind the eight ball.

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ODU

The sticky situation with Old Dominion University was a constant thorn in the side of the campaign.  If you will recall from my post on Oct 20, I didn’t want to create a “macaca moment” for the campaign as a result of this blog.  Unfortunately ODU became that very “macaca moment”.  If you are unfamiliar with this term, watch this segment from the Allen campaign.  It is a single comment or issue detrimental to the campaign that is repeated ad infinitum.  Like leprosy, if left untreated it can hideously disfigure the campaign and cause the public to view the candidate as an undesirable outcast.  I

f you will allow me to return to 2006 for a moment, I don’t believe that comment should have cost George Allen his seat, as he was a good legislator and governor.  I just wish that the issue could have been resolved quickly and completely and not allowed to fester.

But let’s return to the issue at hand.  I’m not going to exhaustively go into the ins and outs of the situation, as I’m sure there are many other blogs who have already done so.  The basic information is as follows:  Several years ago Delegate Hamilton secured funding for a teacher training center at Old Dominion University.  A bit later, the university offered Delegate Hamilton a part time $40,000 position at the university.  Was it a quid pro quo agreement?  Or was it a legitimate hiring practice?  It was a question that would continually haunt the campaign.  Once the situation came into the public eye, Delegate Hamilton resigned from his position and offered an apology for creating the perception of impropriety.  What else could the campaign and candidate have done?  Given his extensive background in the Newport News School system, I believed that his job was appropriate.  After all, I wouldn’t work for a person or organization I thought was unethical.  You have to wonder though, if the ODU issue was such a sordid outrage, why wasn’t it brought to light several years ago when it happened and not when it was politically advantageous, during an election?

When I learned of the issue, I knew that it would be a strong talking point for the Democrats.  After all, our opponent, Robin Abbott was not well known.  By comparison, Delegate Hamilton, as a 21-year incumbent, had a massive name ID advantage.  It served as a perfect opportunity for the Democrats to paint Phil Hamilton in a negative light, a problem in need of removal.  What I didn’t know, however, was that other Republican candidates and the Republican Party of Virginia itself would use the issue against us.  While drinking iced tea after a lengthy day of campaigning, I was shocked to hear that both Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling called upon Delegate Hamilton to resign.  It was troubling news indeed.  Although I didn’t agree with their decision, it did make some political sense.  As they were both running for statewide office, they did not want this scandal to be used against them too.  By comparison, I much preferred Ken Cuccinelli’s approach to the issue.  He thought the question as to Delegate Hamilton’s fate should be left to both the voters and the House Ethics Committee.  As a result of his stance, in Hampton Roads, Steve Shannon, Cuccinelli’s opponent, spent more time attacking Hamilton than he did Cuccinelli. Believe it or not, what caused me the most concern was RPV Chairman Pat Mullins’ similar condemnation.  Although perhaps less damaging politically (certainly Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling command much higher statewide publicity), it worried me greatly. I reserve a very high level of respect for the state party, much higher than the national party or most other political organizations and to suffer their wrath made me begin to doubt.  About the same time, the RPV removed Delegate Hamilton’s name from the party website as a candidate thus placing him in the same ostracized category as Catherine Crabill.  The reaction from voters in the 93rd was immediate but mixed.  Believe it or not, some voters returned their McDonnell yard signs as a symbol of protest for “throwing Hamilton under the bus”.  Others sent angry letters or phone calls to the RPV.   The RPV placated this discontent by reinstating Hamilton’s name to the list of official candidates.  On the other side of things, although far less vocal, some party activists agreed with the decision of McDonnell, Bolling, and Mullins and withdrew their support from the campaign.  As I’ll be discussing soon, it was this discontent which cost the campaign dearly.  By contrast, Republican delegates from neighboring districts, Brenda Pogge (96th) and Glenn Oder (94th) rallied behind Delegate Hamilton.  In addition, during the final days of the campaign, Representative Wittman showed up at headquarters to offer his support.  At the end of the day, neither standing with or against Phil Hamilton cost any other candidate his or her position.

On Election Day itself, while working at one of the precincts, I had the opportunity to speak to our opponent, as she was always called.  Was it harmful to the campaign to call her by her name, Robin Abbott?  We discussed a handful of subjects and I brought up ODU.  She mentioned how she didn’t want the ODU situation to dominate the election and, in general, I think her campaign stuck to that plan.  For all the literature that the Abbott campaign paid, I don’t recall seeing a piece focusing mainly on ODU.  The same could not be said, however, for direct mailings created by the Democratic Party of Virginia, the Virginia Education Association, and other related groups.  Several times a week, these organizations would bombard the district with literature slamming Delegate Hamilton over ODU.  Rather than highlight anything positive about Robin Abbott, far more frequently they would find some guilty-looking picture of Delegate Hamilton, add a picture of a hand in a cookie jar or innocent school children and bam, instant sensationalism.  Don’t vote for this guy, he’s a crook…a creep…a bad guy!  Negative campaigning at its finest. The whole affair was rather like a scab.  Just as soon as you would think the issue healed and forgotten, it would be torn open again and exposed to the open air.  It was 2006 all over again.  How can you win in such an environment?

The bottom line is this:  I am convinced that apart from the ODU scandal Delegate Hamilton would have easily won reelection.

Check back for Part III.

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