So after looking for every potential avenue for optimism and finding none, Keith Fimian has done what Democrats rarely do and conceded the election even though he could have legally called for a recount. Although we wish the outcome was different, we can take comfort knowing that we nominated a candidate with the class to demonstrate the quality of his moral character more than political ambition and a win-at-any-cost attitude. For fighting well and coming so very close to winning against a very worthy political opponent, Keith deserves our thanks and respect.
Although I have no inside knowledge of his campaign, it was pretty clear Keith’s road to victory in the general election would be the same road that won him the primary - fight close in Fairfax and run up the numbers in Prince William County. Keith spent a lot of time in PWC, especially before the primary, and clearly built a large and fired-up organization that gave him a whopping 75-25% victory in the county over Herrity. Hoping the momentum of that organization would keep strong, Keith then focused on making sure he was competitive in Fairfax where two-thirds of the votes in the district are. It didn’t, or at least not enough. In the end, Keith ran competitively in Fairfax but Prince William County just didn’t come through for him.
Gerry Connolly’s get out the vote effort was almost entirely focused on Fairfax County, which makes a lot of sense for him since it’s his base and it’s where most of the votes are. As a result turnout in strong Democrat precincts in Fairfax were rather respectable for a midterm election. Turnout in Democrat precincts in Prince William County were about 20-40% lower, leaving the opportunity for Republicans to crush for Fimian once again, but for some reason that didn’t happen especially outside of the Gainesville and Brentsville district precincts in the 11th. In the other districts it’s as if a lot of folks forgot there was an election and the turnout numbers are the lowest in the entire 11th Congressional District. Connolly and Fimian ran about even outside of Gainesville and Brentsville, and neither side seemed to fight for the Eastern side of the county a whole lot.
In a close victory, everyone gets to “own” it. Same with close defeats. There’s that one little bit that was left undone by a whole bunch of people who potentially could have done more, and a very small number of them could have made that 900 vote difference.
The first person responsible is always the candidate himself. Keith could have done better discussing issues outside of spending and taxes and avoided the quite reasonable conclusion by some folks that he was entirely unqualified for the job. His debate performances were appalling, and for the life of me I can’t understand why Connolly didn’t simply air clips of Fimian floundering for answers to unexpected questions rather than run negative ads. It would have been devastating. I was bitterly disappointed in Keith’s debate performances, and I have to expect that had an impact, and the same lack of preparation was behind the pretty pointed words directed at him in editorials. Those sure didn’t help much.
The campaign also seemed to be somewhat disjointed. Fimian’s staff before the primary was a little disorganized, but they returned phone calls and emails and they tried to coordinate things with local activists and bloggers. After the primary that pretty much stopped, and nearly the only communications I got from them from then on were press releases. Of course there are more important things for a Congressional campaign to do besides Tea Party activist and blogger outreach, but I know if I called James Walkinshaw (Connolly’s campaign manager) he’d call me back in a few hours if for no other reason than pure amusement at the notion I’d want to talk to him. It makes little sense to keep your allies in the dark.
Could some of the Prince William Republicans made a difference? You bet. Once again we had some elected officials go AWOL during the campaign, and their non-support could have made the difference. Could Herrity’s active support have made a difference? Unquestionably. Could the Fairfax and Prince William Committees done more? Perhaps, but from what I saw they were working pretty hard, and I don’t see a whole lot they left undone.
Despite all this, we saw once again Keith is a real fighter who worked so hard the DCCC had to pour almost two million dollars they desperately needed elsewhere into Connolly’s campaign. Keith’s loss probably helped ensure Republicans elsewhere won, because no one expected him to run so close and the late revelation that Connolly was in trouble forced Democrats to redirect resources to protect Connolly instead of other incumbents. Sometimes the tactical defeat in one spot helps support a strategic win, and arguably that’s what happened in the 11th District. Connolly got a bigger fight than he expected, got in trouble, and had to start begging for help.
It wasn’t a perfect campaign, as they rarely ever are. Keith wasn’t a perfect candidate, but there’s pretty much no such thing as a perfect candidate. Eighteen months ago when Keith started running against Connolly again few thought he had much of a chance, and he proved the naysayers wrong. When he won the primary, naysayers thought Connolly was going to easily defeat him, and he proved them wrong as well. Given all the reasons why Keith Fimian shouldn’t have won, he came a heck of a long way with little more than his own determination and tireless effort, and for that he deserves enormous credit. I’ll forgive him any shortcomings for that, and I think others should as well.
Good job, Keith. Well done.
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