Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Democratic Landslide In Virginia Last Night Was A Very Big Deal


Yesterday, voters headed off into the blizzard that blanketed northern Virginia with snow to vote in a special election for a state Senate seat that opened when Mark Herring was elected Attorney General. The district includes parts of Fairfax and Loudon counties and as voters drove to the polls they were hearing on their car radios about the massive indictment finally handed down for Gov. Rob McDonnell and his moll Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell. Last night, Rachel Maddow (above) gave an excellent run-down of what the indictment entails. This morning's Washington Post summarized the gist of the charges against the grubby Republicans who once saw themselves heading inexorably to the White House rather than the Big House. Examples:
Maureen McDonnell called Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. on April 11 and asked him to take her on a shopping trip to New York to buy a dress by designer Oscar de la Renta. The first lady explained that she was attending a political event at the Union League Club in New York two days later and promised to get Williams seated next to McDonnell (R). On the shopping trip, Williams accompanied the first lady to numerous designer stores and spent $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, more than $5,500 at Louis Vuitton and roughly $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman for dresses and accessories that McDonnell said she needed for her daughter’s wedding and for her own anniversary party. Williams was seated next to the governor at the Union League Club event.

Maureen McDonnell arranged a private meeting at the governor’s mansion for Williams, during which she explained that she and her husband were having “severe financial difficulties.” She asked Williams for a $50,000 loan and said she could assist Star Scientific but needed his financial help. She also told Williams that she and her husband were having trouble paying for their daughter’s upcoming wedding and would like $15,000 to cover the remaining catering costs. Williams insisted on talking directly to the governor, who explained that the rental income on some investment properties was not covering their bills and said he would appreciate a loan over a two-year term at 5 percent interest. Williams agreed and said there was no need for formal loan papers.

A member of the governor’s staff indicated May 9 that the staff was considering plans to have McDonnell visit a Star Scientific promotional event on June 1 in Florida. “[T]he person inviting the Governor is a good friend so I would like to be as responsive as possible,” the staff member wrote. A staff member told the company that the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding, the same week as the corporate event, would make the trip impossible.

“I’m so sorry this won’t work out! What else can we do to fix this?” the staff member wrote.

On May 17, Maureen McDonnell scheduled herself to attend the promotional event.

On May 23, Williams had his office assistant write two checks, for $50,000 and for $15,000 as a wedding gift, and delivered them in person to the governor’s mansion.

On June 1, Maureen McDonnell attended the company’s promotional event in Sarasota, Fla., which was also attended by numerous Star Scientific investors, and announced that she was offering the governor’s mansion for the official product launch of Anatabloc.

On Aug. 1, Maureen McDonnell met privately with Williams before the state health official’s briefing to discuss ways that the state could research Star Scientific’s Anatabloc product. The first lady asked about the Rolex watch that Williams was wearing and mentioned that she wanted to get one for her husband, but Williams expressed surprise that the governor would want to wear a luxury item, given his role as a public official. The first lady responded that she wanted Williams to buy her one to give to the governor. Soon afterward, he did buy the watch and called the first lady to ask what she wanted engraved on the Rolex. She replied: “71st Governor of Virginia.” The same day, the governor’s wife entered an electronic calendar event for herself to attend an Aug. 30 luncheon with Virginia state researchers.

On Aug. 12, Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff arranged for the governor to attend the Aug. 30 luncheon.

On Aug. 30, the governor and his wife played host at a luncheon at the governor’s mansion for the launch of Anatabloc. Williams helped craft the guest list, which included some of the same University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University research scientists whom Star Scientific was trying to persuade to conduct clinical trials of Anatabloc. The first lady and Williams placed Anatabloc samples at each table setting.
Voters on their way to the polls were hearing a clear pattern developing on their radios-- Chris Christie up in New Jersey abusing his office and Rob McDonnell down in Richmond abusing his. The pattern? Sociopaths. Republican sociopaths. Dangerous Republican sociopaths. Or maybe they heard reports of Florida Republican candidate for the state House, Joshua Brown, publicly stating: “I’m past impeachment. It’s time to arrest and hang him high.” Him, being President Barack Obama. Rather than apologize, Brown took to his Facebook page to say, "So, don’t stop at impeachment. Remove him. Try him before a jury (the very right that he arbitrarily denied to al-Awaki and his 15-year-old son), and, upon his sure convictions, execute him. Thus has he done, thus it should be done to him."

Of course, I don't know if any of this was going through anyone's mind when they cast their ballots in the crucial state Senate race yesterday. But Democrat Jennifer Wexton swept the field, taking every single Fairfax County precinct and almost all the Loudon County precincts. In the end, it wasn't even close. Running against two better-known Loudon Republicans, notorious anti-Semite John Whitbeck and Joe May ( a GOP legislator who decided to run as an independent), she took 52.71% of the vote. Whitbeck, the anti-Semite, took 37.5% and May took 9.78%. Aside from the importance of this seat in the battle for control of the state Senate, it is a harbinger for control of the 10th congressional district, which has been represented by Republican Frank Wolf since 1980. He is retiring at the end of this year. Obama won the R+2 district in 2008 with 51% and Romney won it in 2012 with 50%. Loudon County is, by far, the biggest part of VA-10. In 2012, voters there gave Wolf a 56-41% victory over Democrat Kristin Cabral. Fairfax County is the second biggest component of VA-10 and Wolf took that one as well… with 59%. Wexton's victory yesterday was a very big deal, especially with the GOP running two far, far right extremists in their primary, whack-job Barbara Comstock and even whackier job, state Senator Dick Black.This morning, the Washington Post reported on the significance of the Wexton sweep for Virginia politics.
Democrats remained on course to take control of the Virginia Senate after winning a key special election Tuesday, as thousands of Northern Virginia voters braved snow and bitter winds to cast ballots in an unusual, three-way contest.

With the Virginia Senate previously split 20-20, Democrats must hold the two seats vacated by Herring and Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D) so they don’t lose control to Republicans. If the chamber remains evenly divided, Northam would act as a tie-breaking vote, giving Democrats control of the chamber. Republicans had previously controlled the chamber with a GOP lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, providing the tie-breaking vote.

The race to replace Northam in his former Senate district, which is based in Norfolk and also leans Democratic, remains undecided. Del. Lynwood W. Lewis (D-Accomack) was certified the winner of a special election by just nine votes, prompting Republican Wayne Coleman on Thursday to request a recount.

…For Republicans, the race marked a chance to seize complete control of the General Assembly, where they already hold the House of Delegates by a wide margin. Their goal was to obtain more-even political footing with new Gov. Terry McAuliffe, as the Democrat pursues an agenda, particularly the expansion of Medicaid, that Republicans strongly oppose.

For Democrats, the campaign was a fresh test of whether their vaunted turnout operation, which benefited McAuliffe and President Obama, could be effective in smaller races. Obama won 59 percent of the vote in the 33rd District in 2012, so a loss Tuesday of the seat-- and the Senate-- would have been embarrassing for Democrats.

Even without snow, Republicans have historically benefited from low-turnout elections through strong grass-roots efforts to get voters to polls. Whitbeck’s campaign said Tuesday that about 100 volunteers were busy making calls on behalf of the Republican candidate.

But his opponents appeared determined to put up a considerable fight: Wexton’s campaign said it had mobilized about 200 volunteers to make calls, knock on doors and hand out campaign literature. May’s campaign had a 20-person phone bank operating throughout the day, and campaign volunteers were stationed at polls across the district, according to May campaign spokesman Jon Conradi.

The election followed a short but highly charged race between the three contenders. Wexton focused on motivating the Democratic base, particularly women, while Whitbeck targeted conservatives by accusing May and Wexton of being liberal “peas in a pod.” With less than 10 percent of the vote, May, who served in the House of Delegates for 20 years, fell far short of his goal of splitting the difference by attracting independents and moderates from both parties.

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