Although some Fairfax County voters headed to the polls with change in mind, incumbents ended up being the big winners in Tuesday’s state and local elections.
All of the incumbents seeking re-election in Fairfax kept onto their seats, including Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D), who easily won another four-year term.
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) was the only supervisor facing a close race. He defeated Democratic challenger Janet Oleszek 12,489 to 12,117, according to unofficial election results.
There will be changes at the state level, however, as Republicans picked up the minimum two seats needed to take control of the Senate, as well as gaining seven seats in the House of Delegates.
Pending a potential recount in Senate District 17, where Republican challenger Bryce Reeves has an 86-vote lead on incumbent Sen. Ed Houck (D), the Senate will be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will be the deciding vote in the event of a tie.
This means “the governor’s agenda will move forward,” said Toni-Michelle Travis, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University.
In Northern Virginia, however, the Democratic incumbents whose districts are partially in Fairfax County fended off Republican challengers, including those who were expected to face the strongest challenges, Sens. George Barker, Dave Marsden, Toddy Puller and Mark Herring.
“People are not in the mood for radical change,” said John Fund, a senior editor at American Spectator, reflecting on off-year election trends from around the country.
Democratic wins in two open seats — Senate District 31, where Arlington County Board member Barbara Favola won against Republican Caren Merrick, and District 30, where Democratic Del. Adam Ebbin also easily won — also helped keep the Republicans from gaining more ground.
Having a Democratic Senate in control of its own redistricting likely helped limit the damage, Fund said.
“Even though there was a Republican tide in Virginia, they were able to limit their losses to one or possibly two seats,” he said.
Virginia fell in line with the handful of other states that had elections this year in re-electing many incumbents, said Geoff Pallay, special projects director for the website Ballotpedia. Nationwide, more than 96 percent of incumbents were re-elected. Virginia led the way on that as a state that tends to be “hostile” to electoral challengers, he said.
Travis said the good showing for incumbents in Fairfax County suggests people are relatively content with their government.
“I think that the Northern Virginia voters who returned incumbents generally think that those people are doing a decent job,” she said.
Those who lost could have been affected by redistricting, Travis said. For example, one of the Senate seats Republicans picked up pitted a Democrat and a Republican against one each other after their districts were combined in the redistricting process.
Turnout in Fairfax County was about 31 percent, down from about 33 percent in 2007 but comparatively better to other areas of the state. It was the bottom of the ticket, the Fairfax County School Board races, that drove many voters to the polls.
Marlene Severson of Great Falls said she has been a little disappointed in the public school system, which her children have attended for about eight years.
“I don’t think it is as good as it could be,” she said.
Other voters said they were concerned about accountability for spending on public schools.
The state races, particularly control of the Senate, drew the attention of other voters.
Al Short of Lorton was among the Fairfax voters hoping to see Republicans take control of the state Senate.
“I’m here to change things,” he said just after voting at South County Secondary School.
Short said he wants Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to have an easier time getting his legislation passed in the last two years of his term, “especially in the arena of energy and jobs.”
Others said they want to see more compromise in state government.
“I think that there is a need for balance,” said Mildred Hoskey of Alexandria. “There is a need for diplomacy.”
While the past several years have led to positive outcomes for Republicans in Virginia, political experts caution it is hard to draw conclusions about what that means for next year’s presidential and congressional elections.
“A presidential election is a very different animal,” Fund said.
Travis noted the amount of money involved and the get-out-the-vote efforts will be exponentially different next year. There also could be population changes, or issue changes, during the course of the next year, she said.
“I don’t think this is a harbinger of what voters will do in 2012,” she said.