There’s a great scene in David Mamet’s underrated 2000 comedy State and Main in which Alec Baldwin —playing a vain, alcoholic movie star with a penchant for teenage girls (gee, typecast much?)—emerges largely unscathed from a spectacular car wreck. Surveying the scene with a bemused look on his face, he smiles dazedly and deadpans, “So, that happened.”
It’s a near certainty that some version of this sentiment, along with its accompanying look of perplexity, was uttered by many a Virginia Democrat after Election Day, as they awoke to find a large chunk of their congressional delegation wrapped around a telephone pole.
And even though everyone saw it coming, the harsh reality of the carnage still delivered quite a shock. In fact, the devastation was so vast that even the donkey’s sole surviving freshman Representative—Gerry Connolly, who bested Oakton CPA Keith Fimian by a whopping 930 votes—ended up in the hospital. (Sure, it was for the removal of an unrelated blood clot, but still…)
The biggest stunner of the cycle had to be the ouster of 14-term incumbent Rick Boucher, who was finally toppled from his long-term perch atop the Ninth Congressional District by Virginia Delegate Morgan Griffith. Early on, Griffith wasn’t given much of a chance, but by the time the GOP electoral tsunami crested, he was well-positioned to ride the wave.Helping him over the top, ironically, was West Virginia Democratic senate candidate Joe Manchin, who ran an ad in which he used the House-passed cap-and-trade energy legislation for target practice. The problem? Boucher was intimately involved in crafting the legislation, and all of his protestations that he was simply trying to protect coal jobs ultimately fell on deaf ears.
And thus did Griffith become the first non-Southwest Virginia native to win the seat since James “Cyclone Jim” Marshall blew away the competition in the late 1800s.
Farther north, both Hampton Roads’ Glenn Nye and Charlottesville’s Tom Perriello were also rudely unseated by their Republican challengers. While Perriello managed to claw within four points of his opponent, Robert Hurt, Nye—disdained by Democrats for his vote against President Obama’s health care legislation, and despised by Republicans for his party affiliation—was beaten like a red-headed stepchild by Virginia Beach car dealer Scott Rigell, who cruised to a 10-point win.
It was, all things considered, one of the most whiplash-inducing political turnarounds in recent memory. Following the 2009 Republican sweep of Virginia’s top three elected offices, these ruby red results make the Democratic gains of the early Aughts seem like ancient history.
But this is, after all, Virginia—home to one of the most proudly schizophrenic electorates in the nation—so who knows?
Even the election’s big winners seem loathe to gloat too much, lest they get punished by the voters next time around. As Morgan Griffith recently told the Roanoke Times, he’s long kept a 1964 copy of Look magazine that questions whether the GOP can survive Barry Goldwater’s disastrous loss to Lyndon Johnson.
“I always pull that one out whenever there’s a bad year, and I’m like, ‘Yes we can.’”
Hmm. Now where have we heard that before?