No one knows what’s going to happen in the Loudoun County elections on Tuesday, as is always the case, because there is almost never any polling conducted. In the race for chair of the Board of Supervisors, predictions are particularly hard because four people are running, two of whom are Independents and likely to cut into whatever party loyalty might exist in 2015.
Both Republican Charlie King and Independent Scott York took the leap of faith every would-be candidate must make prior to tossing their hats in the ring, but they’ve each taken a further risk in their respective approaches during the campaign.
York’s wager was an obvious one, in retrospect, but still a gamble at the time: With overwhelming name recognition throughout Loudoun County, and a reputation for being on the preservationist side of the question of development in the West, he decided to make a strong play for Republican votes by immediately endorsing a number of Republican candidates.
York had most recently won office after joining the Republican ticket in 2011, riding the wave of a Republican sweep of county offices. As an Independent in 2015, he sought a different wave: of dissatisfaction among the Republican rank-and-file, and willingness to reject party authority.
In case you hadn’t seen the news lately, this turns out to be a most excellent year in terms of Republican willingness to reject party authority. If there were ever a year for banking on voters to defy the local Republican Party and their “pledge,” 2015 is that year. Kudos must go to Scott York for reading the tea leaves correctly, and discerning from the temperament of the electorate following the Loudoun County Republican Committee (LCRC) convention that there might have been dissension in the ranks afterwards. One of York’s endorsements was of Republican Sheriff Mike Chapman, who prevailed in a primary contest at the convention.
Which brings us to Charlie King’s wager. King faced a tough situation already, before York even joined the race, because a vocal part of King’s support came from a faction of the LCRC which worked to defeat Sheriff Chapman before the convention, and afterward lauded in social media and elsewhere the fact that Steve Simpson was jumping from the Republican fold to run as an Independent against Chapman. The, uh, “pledge” be damned.
If anyone had a stake in the generic concept of Republican loyalty and keeping the pledge, it was Charlie King. But right off the bat, an influential part of the LCRC said, in effect, “we don’t need no stinking pledge, voting for Independent candidates is ok,” their celebratory fist bumps became roundhouses to King’s face, and into that Perot-sized opening stepped Scott York.
How would King respond? Well, interestingly. In a campaign that has been absent prominent discussion of major issues, and in which the King campaign has garnered very few headlines in the local news for taking a stance on policy matters, King apparently decided last month to take a virtual jab at Sheriff Chapman by calling for creation of a county police department. That actually may be the only issue-oriented headline King has gotten this year. Scott York weighed in to correct King’s assertion that the idea had not been sufficiently explored, and to educate King about the fact that the bigger decision would be changing Loudoun County’s form of government (an odd oversight on King’s part).
Steve Simpson, for his part, quickly joined in with what appeared a lot like a tag-team effort against Chapman.
In terms of public perception, the notion that Charlie King was part of the “Steve Simpson wing of the LCRC” was not repudiated, to say the least: King seems to be wagering he can pull maximum votes from the anti-Chapman Republicans, tick off the other half of the local Republican electorate, and still pull out a win in the general election.
King is a smart man and he does seem to understand politics, but one can be forgiven for questioning his math.
Sterling Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio and Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman both campaigned actively against Mike Chapman back in April, before the convention, but since then have said nary a word about the race for sheriff and certainly nothing publicly to disparage Chapman. Both men might have believed they had some political capital to burn in opposing a popular Republican sheriff.
We can’t know how Republican or Independent voters have been influenced by these political maneuvers, if at all. We can’t even say if it will matter in the end: The big winner from the battle between King and York for Republican votes could be the Democratic candidate, Phyllis Randall. If she holds onto the majority of Democratic votes, and makes some inroads with Independents, and York and King split their voters somewhat evenly, Randall could emerge with a plurality.
Two factors point to King ending up on the losing side of his wager (which, for the record, I don’t want to see happen – Charlie King would make a great chair of the Loudoun Board).
First, York absolutely crushed the competition in fundraising. York lapped the field by raising more than his three opponents’ combined totals so far. But more importantly, York seems to have taken a huge share of potential Republican dollars. Charlie King raised less than $50,000, on top of $28,000 in loans to himself. Scott York raised quadruple that amount even as a very late entrant to the campaign. In fact, nine of the district supervisor candidates raised more money than King.
Second, King’s promotional campaign, which seems to have begun last week (at least at this Sterling household), appears to acknowledge that he’s Republican-challenged. The message of his mail pieces is that Charlie King is THE Republican in the race, in case you didn’t know.
A robo-call from Ken Cuccinelli this morning had the same message, and “Republican Charlie King” seems, along the lines of “Pistol Pete Maravich” or “Broadway Danny Rose,” like the drumbeat phrase we are supposed to internalize in the final week of the campaign.
Which is all fine and good, and probably necessary, especially when one of the King campaign’s most resonant public statements of the past two months was for a position opposed by our Republican sheriff, and supported by the Independent and Democratic candidates for sheriff. In a year when voters seem more than willing to thumb their noses at the party anyway, King has to hope he is the one to inspire loyalty among Loudoun County Republicans.