Saturday, November 10, 2007

More About The 51st, By The Numbers

The Gill-Haters are amazing. Even though he was defeated in Tuesday's election, by a 52%-48% margin (499 votes), they still attack.

Now, one might attack it as an unhealthy fixation, or merely childish "I-told-you-so"-ism, thereby implicitly belittling the comments and those making them. One might dismiss it as mere racism/bigotry. In some, at least, there seems to be an element of this motivation.

However, there is clearly a much more logical and mature reason for their continued attacks: pest (from their perspective) control. Understandable in Democrats (who want winner Paul Nichols to avoid a tough race in his most vulnerable defense of the seat), but despicable in self-identified Republicans, who in 2009 would have little choice but to consider Gill a serious and perhaps even favored candidate for a rematch with Nichols, depending upon the state-wide races.

Had any other candidate lost in a race that could have been swung to the GOP by a shift of just 250 votes, the losing candidate would be trumpeted as a good bet the next time around. But of course, that doesn't fit in the Gill-Haters' meme.

So they have to advance the canard that Gill lost because of his own flaws, rather than their own perfidy and smears. Quite popular among the Gill-Haters is the notion that Gill not only lost in his own right, but that he dragged down Jay O'Brien with him.

But the numbers simply don't bear that out. And facts are stubborn things.

According to the State Board of Elections, Jay O'Brien won 5,334 votes in nine PWC precincts in 2007; Democrat challenger George Barker won 4,272 in those precincts. Eight were shared with Gill, and O'Brien won six of eight. 1102 of Jay's votes were won in Buckhall Precinct, shared with Delegate Bob Marshall.

By comparison, in 2003, O'Brien won 4,688 votes in nine PWC precincts, while Democrat Greg Galligan won 2,519 votes.

So, between 2003 and 2007, O'Brien increased his vote by 546 votes, while the Democrat candidate increased his PWC vote by a significant 1,753 votes. In short, O'Brien won more Republican votes in 2007 than in 2003, but Democrats increased their turnout.

What explains this increased Democrat turnout? One has to believe that part of the explanation lies in the fact that GOP fortunes have been in decline for the last two years, both nationally and in Virginia. However, I don't believe this was the most important factor. Moreover, the 51st District race did have an impact, but not in the way that the Gill-Haters think.

The most relevant comparison is the last time O'Brien ran for the seat, in 2003. Then, O'Brien won 3,681 votes in the portion of his district which overlaps the 51st, according to the State Board of Elections. In 2007, O'Brien won 4,232 votes in the portion of his district which overlaps the 51st, increasing his vote by 551 over 2003, according to the State Board of Elections.

The results in the 51st District in 2007 were 12,246 voters (30.49%), with 5,844 votes for Gill, and 6,343 for Nichols.

In 2003, after all, it was not an open seat, but it was held by Michele McQuigg, an incumbent running for her third full term (having been elected to nearly another full term when she replaced David Brickley in 1998). McQuigg had no opposition in 2003, and her total vote in the race was 8,128, about two-thirds of those voting for 51st District Delegate in 2007 (12,246). Turnout in 2003 was 19.28% in the District; turnout in 2007 was 30.49%.

An equally interesting comparison is between 2005 and 2007. In 2005, Democrats ran Earnie Porta (now Occoquan Mayor). In that race, total turnout was 15,434 voters (36.78%), an increase (over 2003 and 2007) clearly attributable to the statewide races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. The State Board of Elections reports that McQuigg won 8,313 votes in 2005, while Porta won 7,107 votes.

The explanation for this discrepancy is obvious: Democrats were more motivated to turn out by the prospect of an open seat, always a party's best chance of winning. Thus, the fact that the 51st District race was contested increased voter turnout, as it inevitably would.

Thus, the notion that Faisal Gill had any negative impact upon Jay O'Brien is nothing more than a self-serving canard. If anything, Faisal's strong but unsuccessful candidacy aided O'Brien's losing effort.

At least, to the extent that any down-ballot race has an impact upon another race.

Perhaps the most significant element of the argument that Gill's candidacy harmed O'Brien is in the fact that the Gill-Haters are suggesting that voters cast their ballots against O'Brien because they didn't like Gill.

This sounds a lot more like projection of their own sophomoric behavior than it sounds like a rational analysis of the outcome of the election and the actual votes cast.

No comments: