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Thoughts On The Gainesville Supervisor Race

By Greg L | 24 August 2011 | Prince William County | 7 Comments

This has been one of the most unusual primary elections in Prince William County in recent history.  Having five people contend for a nomination makes for a strange campaign, and within that mix there’s inevitably going to be several people who demonstrate they really didn’t belong in the race and never found the good sense to bow out once it became obvious they weren’t going to win.  I like it when people run for office, but it gets a bit annoying when a race gets cluttered with folks who aren’t ready for the challenge.

Let me start out by giving one of the quixotic challengers some well deserved kudos which wouldn’t otherwise be given.  I never thought Michael High had a chance in this but he proved entertaining in a good way and when he started focusing on policy and process, he actually did a pretty good job.  Amongst all the also-rans, this is the guy who probably holds the brightest future if he decided that raising money, distributing yard signs and actually campaigning for an office were actually things that can help you get elected.  His utterly unconventional non-campaign did him in, but he exhibited good humor throughout and actually offered some interesting discussions.  We might see him again, a bit smarter as a candidate, and I look forward to that.  There’s potential there, and he grew during this ordeal.

One person who shouldn’t ever be allowed near candidate petitions ever again is Suzanne Miller, though.  She grasped just enough of the typical campaign rhetoric to string together some sentences that weren’t utter nonsense, but the nonsense invariably creeped in, such as when she declared late in the campaign that we need to boost agriculture in Prince William County so it would be cheaper to buy food.  I’m all for farming, but the last actual farm that produced food in Prince William County shut down in something like the 1960’s because of changing economics and land values.  She had about as much chance winning this race as she did in her initial bid to take on Jill Holtzman-Vogel for a Senate seat.  What a nut.

Rounding out the also-rans was Steve Botello, someone I’ve been friends with for several years at least until I started covering this race.  He was defiant that he would win this race to the point of the assertion becoming a bit troubling after a while.  I understand bravado and optimism in a candidate, but the outcome here was clear from rather early on and it seemed he was the only one who couldn’t see it.  If you think of an election being something like the process where officers in the military are selected for promotion, Botello was the enlisted guy trying to find a way to participate in the process.  Enlisted guys are great (I was one) but this wasn’t the place for that kind of personality.  Everything about this campaign screamed not-ready-for-prime-time and it really didn’t get that much better as time went on.  Steve is a hard-working party operations guy, and that’s where he does his best.  Hopefully that’s where we’ll see him in the future.

From the start this was a showdown between Martha Hendley and Pete Candland, and the rest of the candidates were little more than noise.  Peter started actively campaigning in May, and Hendley didn’t really get her campaign moving until July.  That one month advantage made a big difference, especially during the compressed timeframe of a redistricting year election.  It seems that Hendley didn’t expect any real opposition, since she was the only one with a record of public service and much in the way of district name ID.  I’m sure at the outset the impression was that this wouldn’t be that tough a race for her to win.  After Candland started getting some obvious momentum Hendley was reacting to Candland rather than setting the pace herself and it pretty much stayed that way throughout the election cycle.  I’m sure that when the polling Hendley’s campaign did pretty late in the cycle came in, the results were a bit of a shock.

In the end it was pretty much a case of a textbook campaign operation getting ahead and staying there.  Candland devoted a lot of energy to the campaign and adequately performed as a fundraiser, got a good cadre of volunteers and hired a competent campaign manager early.  He performed well in public appearances, looked good in campaign materials, hosted a lot of well attended events and had a steady stream of campaign materials arriving in mailboxes.  There wasn’t anything particularly new or different about this campaign, it just performed well in an environment where every other campaign had weaknesses in one or more areas.  Hard work pays off, and smart hard work pays off even better.

Precinct results tell the story.  Hendley took Evergreen +87, Battlefield +28, Stonewall +11 and Sudley +6.  Candland won everywhere else with Bull Run +37, Sinclair +13, Alvey +136, Heritage Hunt +112, Pace West +56, Mountain View +39, Mullen +43 and Absentee +19.  Haymarket, Heritage Hunt and Dominion Valley went for Candland and the rest were divvied up between them.  The traditional key to winning the Gainesville District is winning in the higher turnout center and staying competitive elsewhere, and that’s exactly what Candland did.  It was the right focus, and he seemed to be the only one with that focus.  The only outlier in these results was in Mullen where the Candland campaign apparently discovered a trove of voters in Steve Botello’s back yard that no one had ever really engaged before and got them to turn out.  A little serendipity always helps, especially when a campaign is canvassing effectively so they can make those discoveries.

Looking ahead, that perfect execution style is going to come in handy as Candland takes on Ann Wheeler in the general election.  We haven’t seen a lot of her on the campaign trail yet, but in the public appearances she has seemed relatively competent.  A Democrat has somewhat of a disadvantage running in a district like Gainesville but party fortunes wax and wane and plenty of other dynamics such as what’s happening in overlapping House and Senate districts can make things unpredictable.  If the general election were held today, Candland would probably be favored by at least ten points.  What November will look like could be quite different depending on the economy and other factors at the national level.

In November, Dick Black (SEN13) and David Ramadan (HOD87) will be on the ticket in the northern-most precincts, and Bob Marshall (HOD13) will be on the ticket in the eastern precincts.  All of those races will likely be contentious and push relatively higher turnouts.  In the middle there’s an overlap with an unopposed Tim Hugo (HOD40) which will cause slightly lower turnout in the important GOP Battlefield and Mountain View precincts.  Candland’s base of support is right in the area of this 40th House District overlap which should help to prevent a large dropoff in these precincts.  I don’t see much of an impact from the Chairman’s race as Lateef isn’t getting much traction and Democrats are dissatisfied with him, which should make that race relatively less intense than it was four years ago.

Given the increase in name ID associated with a primary Candland probably is starting with an early lead again, and if he works as hard during the general election cycle as he did in the primary he should be in a good position to win pretty handily.  The district definitely leans Republican, Democrats don’t seem to have their act together yet with an election looming just a little more than two months from now, Obama’s approval numbers continue to slide, and Candland has a proven team in place with some experience behind it.  To top it off the outgoing Republican is very popular in the District and will be campaigning for Candland.  All this makes it extremely hard for Democrats to swoop in and take this seat.



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7 Comments

  1. Harry said on 25 Aug 2011 at 10:08 am:
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    Excellent assessment. I think one thing is certain….now is the time for Republicans to get together and make damn sure that we win every seat possible. As you have pointed out on these pages, the campaigns had all kind of personalities and the ups and downs to match. Now is the time to shake hands, get behind our chosen candidates and WIN.

  2. Joe Doc said on 25 Aug 2011 at 11:13 am:
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    Spot on, Harry. The primary battles should make us stronger. I wanted Stirrup, Black won. I’m supporting Black.

    Also, I was pro-Martha until I got her negative piece on Candland. It made me take a closer look at Candland, and I didn’t see anything I didn’t like about him. Martha going negative made no sense — her record was good enough. Too bad, really.

    Let’s rally together, folks, and make it clear to everyone that Prince William and Loudoun are right.

  3. Steve Thomas said on 26 Aug 2011 at 10:10 am:
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    I’ve been active in many campaigns. I can say there is a time and place to go negative:

    1) if behind but still within striking distance
    2) to counter a negative campaign
    3) if what you have on your opponent is without question negative, AND is easily understood as such by the voter.
    4) is relevant to the debate.

    I am a bit leary of strategy of going negative in an inter-party contest. It’s tough, very tough to unring the bell, and it is important to come out of a primary united behind the winner. Go to negative and you are feeding the opposing party’s campaign strategy.

  4. George Sparks said on 27 Aug 2011 at 7:32 am:
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    With 400+ votes, Suzanne sounds more like a contender than you make her out to be.

  5. GV Taxpayer said on 28 Aug 2011 at 1:11 am:
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    Losing any campaign is a tough experience, and Martha Hendley is not immune from the bitterness that naturally comes with having lost an election that she obviously believed was a seat she was entitled to — in fact a seat that she had earned.

    However, Martha has be a loyal Republican foot-soldier for decades, and she will not allow her personal disappointment to allow a Democrat to slip into office in the Gainesville District. Ann Wheeler is a well-spoken candidate, but she carries the baggage of having a philosophy that encourages more government spending to solve all our problems. One example is that Wheeler was very critical of the current Board for turning down federal stimulus money, and lauded the use of that stimulus money by the PW County School Board to use stimulus money to increase teacher salaries.

    Great, because teachers likely deserve to make more money, but where will that money come from next year when there is no federal stimulus money?

    The taxpayers, of course.

    Pete Candland will likely focus on those kinds of philosophical differences, and the more voters learn about it, the worse it will be for Ann Wheeler.

  6. Jean said on 29 Aug 2011 at 6:57 am:
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    Regarding the Republican Primary for Gainesville District supervisor, it seems to me competition is a good thing - it’s the American way afterall.

    If only the competition would have driven the establishment candidates to develop more refined messages. I’ve taken a look at all the Candidate websites … by the way, I saw nothing on Suzanne Miller’s website that indicated she wanted to bring back the farms of the 60’s - her campaign was clearly pro-business innovation - just look at her Issues page. Her message was clearly one of not giving up on the idea to expand locally grown produce… She got 13% of the vote and is a credible candidate. I’d look for her in the future.

    It seems no one really focuses on issues anymore. Just who has the establishment behind them.

    It’s clear that Candland had the establishment and developers backing and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more urban sprawl to get money into the county rather than businesses. The man may be a pretty boy, but if you compare his resume to the others, it falls short. It seems no one does comparisons anymore, perhaps following the misrepresented twisted untruths….

    It’s unfortunate. this Blog is quite entertaining though - what a way to make a living…. The Spin factor starts here and twists and turns ..

  7. Ken Reynolds said on 6 Sep 2011 at 10:08 pm:
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    Evidently GV Taxpayer was not following the budget this year when he took on Ann Wheeler’s campaign. Whether you are for or against government, an additional $17 million in the pot would have gone a long way when things were tight last year. And why not give the teachers a raise? We are among the lowest paying school divisions in northern virginia. And based on the millions of excess money that came out of nowhere in July (election year), there would have been enough to match the $17 million. Why do conservatives pride themselves for being anti-education? GV is a classic example. Go to your room GV….no substance!!

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