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After the ballot / November 07, 2013
Now comes my favorite part of the election: when it’s over. And I get to pontificate on the meaning.

The election analysis/post mortem is a trope of newspaper journalism that probably has felled more trees (to produce more paper!) than wildfires, gypsy moths and high-density residential subdivisions combined. We inky wretch types love to scribble out our thoughts after the returns have rolled in and offer pat analyses of What It All Means because, frankly, it’s fun. Politics is like sports that way, a constant back-and-forth argument about who’s on top and who’s lagging in the standings, except without the wondrous feats of athleticism and endorsement deals for the superstars.

Say this much for the folks who throw their hats in the ring to run for office: Completing a marathon isn’t nearly as grueling as slogging through a hard-fought campaign. Politics can be a brutal business, and people who sit on the sidelines throwing their empty beer cans at the candidates ought to acknowledge just how difficult the game is to play. Yours truly being no exception.

Enough prelims. Let’s get down to sorting out the winners from the losers, shall we?

WINNER: Women prosecutors. They do have a habit of rolling up big vote totals in Halifax County, or so it seems. In her last competitive race, the November 2003 general election, Kim Slayton White defeated Robert Meeks by a 74-26 point margin. On Tuesday, Tracy Quackenbush Martin didn’t quite match that enormous spread, but she wasn’t far off with 65 percent of the vote. It was an impressive showing.

I consider myself a bit of an oddball amid the state of agitation that grew up around the Freshour-Martin race, insofar as I think of both candidates as friends and was perfectly happy in the knowledge that one of them would our next Commonwealth’s Attorney. So congratulations to Tracy and best of luck to Mike, and I hope both of them do well in the future. On that note, for all the terrible sting of losing, Freshour should take comfort in knowing that he will soon become the most recognizable lawyer in private practice in Halifax County, which can’t be too bad for business.

LOSER: Party identification. I don’t want to press this argument too far, because my Tea Party base is unhappy enough with me as it is, but I’m glad the Freshour campaign gambit of hyping his Republican Party identification had no discernable impact on the race. Not because I, personally, am a Democrat — had I been in Mike Freshour’s shoes, I probably would have tried the same tactic — but because no one needs to be too eager to inject party politics into realms where it has no relevance and can only cause trouble should this ever change. Most people who run for local office do so as independents, a sound practice that reflects the prerequisites of the job. When, late in the campaign, Quackenbush Martin found herself under attack for being a “liberal Democrat,” I didn’t know whether to snicker or shred the campaign mailer that blared that grave insult. In the end, the overriding emotion was “meh.”

One good reason not to press the argument that party identification doesn’t matter is that Halifax County remains a Republican redoubt at the state and federal level, as evidenced by hefty vote totals locally for Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Obenshain. (E.W. Jackson, the thoroughly embarrassing Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, carried Halifax County by 64 votes, compared to 1,545 for Cuccinelli and 2,023 for Obenshain.) Fortunately for all, local politics really doesn’t lend itself to ideological fervor, as we’re reminded every time a rock-ribbed Republican serving on some town council somewhere goes hat-in-hand to USDA for a below-market interest loan to replace a broken sewer line. Pragmatism, not party politics, is the lodestar of local government. Long may it be so.

WINNER: Bean counters. The outcome Tuesday night was a tad on the messy side, with an almost unbelievably tight race developing in the Attorney General’s race between Obenshain and the Democratic candidate, Mark Herring. Late yesterday afternoon, the Associated Press showed Obenshain with a 479 vote lead out of 2.2 million votes cast statewide. A recount is practically inevitable. The Washington Post has a useful piece up its website ( explaining how a recount would work, and what we might reasonably expect to see come out of the process. The takeaway: a review of past recounts by a group called FairVote “shows the average statewide recount between 2000 and 2012 shifted the vote total by about 0.03 percent, with the largest shift being 0.11 percent.” In one of the most famous recounts of recent vintage, in the 2008 Minnesota U.S. Senate race, Al Franken trailed incumbent Norm Coleman on the morning after the election by 725 votes out of 2.8 million cast. The recount pushed Franken over the top, by 312 votes — a shift of 0.04 percent. The current percentage spread in the Obenshain-Herring contest? 0.03 percent.

It probably goes without saying that it may be a while before we know the identity of Virginia’s next attorney general.

LOSER: Pollsters. Hey Rasmussen, did you really project that Terry McAuliffe would win the governor’s race by 17 points? Why, I believe you did! It’s not just Republicans’ favorite polling outfit that has ‘splaining to do in the aftermath of the election. The polling average pointed to a 7 point McAuliffe victory, which wasn’t right either — he won by around 2.5 percent. One suspects the predicted blowout rested on the feeling that Cuccinelli was never quite able to consolidate the GOP vote, mostly due to the simmering bad feeling between the party’s Tea Party and establishment wings. For the record, with a co-worker as my witness, I was predicting a 4 point McAuliffe victory. This, because as long as I’ve been following politics, Republicans dependably can be expected, after all is said and done, to come home. They’re like Lassie that way.

LOSER: Hard-nosed politics. Candidate Cuccinelli’s strident tone throughout the race — the strategy of a man who knew his only real hope was to tear down the other guy — made him temperamentally the perfect Tea Party candidate. In truth, the Cooch has positioned himself throughout his career as a culture warrior par excellence and Fox News host-in-waiting. I read somewhere where his biggest mistake in the race was supposedly allowing Terry McAuliffe to define him early on as an extremist and an ideologue. Really? No one needed to watch $28 million worth of TV commercials to know that much. At long last Cuccinelli tasted the fruit of his political labors Tuesday night. I doubt it was as good as Kool-Aid.

It’s fairly obvious that the voters are fed up with politicians of most all stripes nowadays, but the ill will surely runs deepest towards those who are constantly eager to pick a fight, who elevate party and politics above pragmatism, who would rather lob bombs than seek out compromise. Cuccinelli checked each of those boxes throughout his political career and the majority of voters Tuesday seemed to know it. I hope the future will prove otherwise, but there’s a not-zero chance that we may look back in a few years and wonder how anyone in the world could have possibly lost to Terry McAuliffe. Yet here’s a man who found a way. Heckuva job, Cooch.

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