I have a piece of good news for you and some bits of bad news. The good news is that Tom Perriello’s days as our Congressman are numbered. The bad news is that is Robert Hurt doesn’t need our votes to win in November.
Many of the various political and demographical factors that came together in 2008 to allow Perriello to oust longtime Congressman Virgil Goode will not be factors in 2010. Those factors included a suppression of Republican/conservative voters who were unhappy with the nomination of John McCain and the realization that Obama was being projected to win the election, maybe even carrying Virginia in the process. The Obama nomination invigorated the District’s Democratic/progressive voters, as well as independents attracted to the candidate’s promises for “change” and anxious to participate in the historical election of the republic’s first African-American president. There was also the speculation that some University of Virginia students fraudulently registered to vote in both their home districts and locally, or in whichever district their votes would be more “effective” in electing Obama. Of course, the partisan Democrats and independent progressives of the 5th District will vote for Perriello in November. But, without the additional independent and transient voters, Perriello’s level of support should return to about 35-40%, as indicated by the vote totals of the 2002 – 2006 elections.
As demonstrated in the recent Republican primary, Robert Hurt does not need our votes to win. In fact, despite the efforts of so many within the Tea Party to nominate one of the other six candidates who in various ways were more in line with our principles of smaller government and fiscal responsibility (the candidates demonstrated varying levels of respect for individual rights), Hurt’s double digit margin of victory demonstrates that there are enough partisan Republicans in the district to easily secure the nomination for the party insider. The bad news for the Tea Party is that Hurt has confirmed that he does not need our votes. He simply needs to focus his message toward those partisan Republican and conservative independents to also win in November. (Yes, despite the protests of many within the Tea Party, Hurt is a conservative, but that is a matter for a different discussion.) If this were a two way race, Hurt would win about 60% of the vote, again consistent with 2002 – 2006 results. To solidify victory, he will continue to pay lip service to the Tea Party principles, enough so to win a fair share of our votes, or to convince some of us that he has learned his lesson as far as voting for expansions in government.
Many of the Tea Party crowd are worried that the independent campaign of Jeff Clark will somehow split the small government (conservative, libertarian, independent) vote in a manner that Perriello’s 40% will be a large enough vote total to win. Historically, independent or third party can expect about 2 to 3 percent of the vote from independent voters of all political persuasions and protest votes from those who will vote for anyone who doesn’t have a “D” or an “R” next to his or her name. Extrapolating this data, Clark’s presence on the ballot would be expected to change a 60/40 race into a 58/39/3 race.
The impact that Tea Party voters will have in November will be in determining what Hurt’s, Clark’s and Perriello’s final percentages will be, because these are “extra” votes to be allocated among the candidates. Just like the district experienced a surge in Democrat inclined voters in 2008, it will experience additional small government supporters this year. None of these additional supporters will improve Perriello’s position; they will simply add votes to either Hurt’s or Clark’s total. However, they will not create a defection of supporters from Hurt to Clark that would result in a Perriello victory.
So, the worst news for Tea Party supporters is that they have missed their chance to affect the 2010 5th District Congressional race. As unsavory as this will sound to Tea Partiers who wish to impact this year’s election, now that Hurt as secured the Republican nomination, this is his race to win or lose. If Tea Party supporters wish to have an impact in the 5th District, they will have to refocus their efforts on the next round of elections.
But keep in mind that the fight to restore the Republic will not be won or lost in November, and that many battles lay ahead for us who wish to return it to its Constitutional foundations. Whatever your assessment of Hurt’s impending election, do not lose sight of the larger objectives nor hope that we can be successful.
James Curtis is a member of the Jefferson Area Tea Party, as well as the Treasurer of the Libertarian Party of Virginia and Jefferson Area Libertarians.