Prince William Clerk of Court Race Loss is Warning for November

It wasn’t even close.

Last night, after a brief, month-and-a-half long campaign that began March 1, Democrat Jackie Smith defeated veteran Republican legislator Jackson Miller to win the Clerk of Court race in Prince William County.  Smith won by an eight point margin, 54% to 46%, garnering 13,905 votes to Miller’s 11,871 – which represents an abysmal turnout of 10% of Prince William’s over 256,000 registered voters.

Just two years ago, in 2015, Republican Michelle McQuigg defeated Jackie Smith in the regular election for the position.  McQuigg won handily, beating Smith by slightly more than four points, 52% to 48%, receiving 34,394 votes to Smith’s 31,538, in a race with slightly less than 30% turnout.  McQuigg, a former state Delegate and member of Prince William’s Board of Supervisors, passed away in February 2017, leaving the position vacant.

Smith is not a politician, but a local lawyer, and this was her second time running for elected office in Prince William County.  Miller, like McQuigg before him, is a seasoned elected official, having won elections to both the Manassas City Council and having served in the House of Delegates since 2006.  Miller served in the House leadership under Speaker Bill Howell, and has consistently won reelection in Prince William since his first election with more than 55% of the vote, and wasn’t even challenged by Democrats in 2011.

Miller outspent Smith close to seven-to-one, raising almost $200,000 to Smith’s $35,000.  Republicans in Prince William control the Board of Supervisors 6-2, and Prince William’s House of Delegates delegation also 6 to 2, including some of Virginia’s most conservative elected officials like Bob Marshall.  Democrats control 3 of 5 State Senate seats representing the county.  The county is represented in Congress by Rob Wittman (R), Barbara Comstock (R) and Gerry Connolly (D).

The county is also home to Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart, who serves countywide as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and won his last election campaign 57% to 43% countywide in 2015, the same election McQuigg won.

The point of all of this background is to make it clear – this was a race that most outside observers would have called for Jackson Miller.  He was a sitting incumbent representing a portion of Prince William.  He had access to help from a number of colleagues in the House of Delegates as well as on the Board of Supervisors, and at least one other countywide elected official who is actively running a campaign designed to appeal to Republican voters in a low-turnout election that is less than two months away.  He had ample resources and higher name recognition than his opponent.  In short, the deck was stacked against Jackie Smith and yet she prevailed.  Not only did she prevail, the margin was much higher than anybody expected.  This wasn’t a squeaker of an election.

This election result should force every Republican running for election or reelection in Virginia to sit up and take notice.  This was a winnable race, with a well-funded veteran campaigner in a county filled with active GOP incumbents with good data.  Yes, the county has been trending Democratic, but it remains winnable for Republicans.  Prince William is a microcosm of Virginia as a whole.  We should have won, but we didn’t.

Yesterday’s loss in Prince William looks like foreshadowing of bad results come November.

This win will provide momentum to Virginia Democrats who have been looking for wins since Donald Trump’s election last year.  Even though Hillary Clinton won the Commonwealth by almost 5 points and Democrats gained a court-drawn Congressional seat, GOP control over the General Assembly, a majority of the Congressional seats, and now the White House, has left them hungry for electoral victories.  Republicans, on the other hand, are doing what we tend to do whenever we have control – fight with each other.  We are in the midst of an embarrassing gubernatorial primary, and one of the most disgusting Lieutenant Governor’s primary races in modern memory.  President Trump’s low approval ratings and the motivation his election has created among liberal and progressive activists has manifested itself in grassroots organizing at a level we haven’t seen in Virginia from Democrats in a long, long time.

With a number of high profile retirements this year in the General Assembly, including Speaker Bill Howell, long-serving Fairfax Delegate Dave Albo, and Prince William’s Mark Dudenhefer, Republicans will be defending a number of open seats, including in Democratic areas like Fairfax.  This, coupled with Democratic momentum as demonstrated in yesterday’s election in Prince William County, makes it likely that the GOP will have some significant difficulties in November.

If Republicans are going to weather to coming storm, a few things need to happen.  First, we will need to put the divisiveness of the governor and LG races behind us as quickly as possible after June 13, and rally around our nominees, whoever they may be.  Second, we need to stop fighting with each other and recognize that our true opponents are not each other, but the Democrats.  We do not have the luxury, right now, to engage in the kind of internecine warfare that erupts when we have safe majorities and safe incumbents.  It’s hard to understand how Miller could lose this race, especially with Corey Stewart sitting on a gold mine of targeting data not only from his successful 2015 campaign but also from his current gubernatorial campaign.  Miller, however, endorsed Ed Gillespie for Governor, so it’s unlikely that Stewart did much to support Miller’s efforts.  That was a mistake, because other than Miller, the biggest loser from yesterday’s election was Stewart.  He let a countywide position fall to the Democrats on his watch as the most senior county-wide elected official in the GOP.  Stewart will learn the hard way that allowing the Democrats a foothold county-wide is not going to make his job as Chairman any easier.  Third, we cannot afford to take anything for granted.  As the old saying goes, if you’re not running unopposed, you’re running scared, and it is likely that there are going to be a number of incumbents who have not had real races in quite a long time who may get caught napping if they aren’t careful.  Nobody should go into this November thinking they are a shoo-in for any contested race, no matter how well they have done in the past.  Anybody who doesn’t recognize the pitfalls and perils of the current political environment for Republicans is just looking to get upset in November.

Make no mistake – what happened in Prince William yesterday was the canary in the coal mine for the GOP.  If we do not stop with the petty bickering, bear down and focus, we have the potential to lose anywhere from 5-10 seats in the House of Delegates and all three statewide races.  Again.  If we simply try to run the same campaigns we’ve run in the past, with candidates whose ideology does not fit the Virginia electorate, we are going to lose.  It’s that simple.  Republicans need to get fired up and they need to be ready to work hard to win.

The GOP has been winning nationally and, thanks to gerrymandering and incumbency, we have maintained our control over the General Assembly.  But with Republicans in complete control of all three branches of the federal Government, Virginia state and local politics are going to become all the more difficult for GOP candidates.  If we are going to defeat the Democrats in November, we need to take what happened yesterday in PWC for the warning signal that it was.

 

  • Stephen Spiker

    And the thing is, even if its not, Virginia Republicans running for office in 2017 should still campaign as if it is.

  • MD Russ

    Brian,

    I have far greater faith in Republicans than you do. I am convinced that bickering, quibbling, and hypocrisy is as deeply rooted in their DNA as it is in Democrats. Your admonition is well-intended and should be heeded by those who wish to prevent another T-Mac or a Democratic majority in the GA. But, as it is written in the Bible, cast not pearls before swine. Just as the Tea Party obliterated any chance of reforming ObamaCare, the “no-prisoners” hardliners in the RPVA will keep Virginia blue rather than compromise where necessary.

    • That’s what I’m worried about. We can win elections if we stop pretending.

      • MD Russ

        You’re right. This should be a wake-up call for the RPVA, but it is hard to arouse people who are sleep-walking through life. BTW, congratulations on being quoted in the Washington Post. Be sure to send a copy to your mother. That’s what I did when I was quoted in Business Week a few years ago as a “senior Army official.”
        🙂

    • AnninVA26

      I am convinced that our attacking of each other doesn’t help either. Circular firing squads never help. Take note!

  • Indiana Blotto’s Last Crusade

    This is a result of bad zoning and planning decisions by the GOP-led Board of Supervisors stretching back more than a decadce. They have been sowing the seeds of the party’s destruction in Prince William County by voting for more apartments and multi-family housing units where residents typically vote Democratic.

    • notjohnsmosby

      Because without all of the new residents, Prince William would still be the redneck paradise it was 30 years ago?

      • mark Jawsz

        Better a “redneck paradise” than the domain of MS-13.

    • John Ub

      So….. the BoS should not vote for needed housing in Democratic areas….

  • James Young

    Some merit — a lot, really — to what you said, but I think you don’t focus enough on the fact that Democrats are much more highly motivated, in light of their eight years of successive electoral decline.

    By the way, as a second-time candidate, Smith is decidedly a politician, her dishonest campaign rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. As for being a lawyer, what successful lawyer wants to be a Clerk?

    • MD Russ

      A lawyer who wants a stepping stone to bigger things.

    • Salary is pretty good, and an eight year term is nothing to sneeze at.

      • James Young

        It’s the same difference between a player on the field, and someone in the stands. Neither can exist without the other, but if the fan has done everything necessary to play in the game, and is sitting in the stands, he’s wasted a lot of money and effort.

        • MD Russ

          If you think that the Clerk of Court is someone sitting in the stands, then you know nothing about local government.

          • James Young

            If you think being an attorney is comparable to being a Clerk of Court, then you know nothing about the practice of law.

          • MD Russ

            Maybe if you are Perry Mason, but lots of run-of-the-mill lawyers would welcome a shot at the job.

          • James Young

            Thank you for discerning the point of adjectives. Allow me to quote myself (emphasis added): “what SUCCESSFUL lawyer wants to be a Clerk?”

          • It all depends on how you define success. If somebody is tired of practicing and wants a different job that pays well and gets you into elected office, I can see plenty of lawyers taking the gig.

          • James Young

            Used to watch Perry Mason reruns in the law school lounge when I was in law school in Atlanta, on WTBS (which was a local station there). Word was, he committed at least one disbarrable offense a week.

            Perry Mason was overrated.

        • Fair point.

    • Jim Portugul

      “Dishonest campaign rhetoric”? What about Trump? And, what about Gillespie’s across the board 10% tax decrease? And, what about Clinton?

      Republicans and Democrats are copying Trumps election winning philosophy, lie about everything!

      If things do not change between now and November, the Republicans may not do so good. But, Trump was the Republicans best candidate, as his win proves. And, Ryan promised a return to regular order. When? Look for another CR for the budget next week.

      I suspect behind the scenes that the freedom caucus and a few others will not do business with Trump or Ryan on any level until they repeal Obamacare.

  • AnninVA26

    This is a blue state. We need to fully come to grips with that reality.

    • MD Russ

      Ann,

      In a blue state, statewide offices are rarely held by Republicans, the Congressional delegation is majority Democratic, and Democrats habitually hold the majority in the state legislature. That hardly describes Virginia.

      • Jim Portugul

        What it describes is effective gerrymandering.

        • MD Russ

          Jim,

          The current state Senate districts were redrawn by a Democratic majority. The Democrats still couldn’t retain their majority. I know that Republican gerrymandering is a sacred Dem talking point, but both sides do it whenever they can; it is a bi-partisan sport called the Incumbent Protection Game.

          BTW, it goes on with Congressional districts as well. Take a look at the Democratic 8th and 11th Districts and tell me that they are not gerrymandered.

          • Jim Portugul

            No doubt, both party’s will do whatever it takes to win. Mr. Schoenrman said this above;

            “The GOP has been winning nationally and, thanks to gerrymandering”

            I think right now the Republicans have the gerrymandering edge. Note, I am neither R or D.

          • Gerrymandering isn’t a necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a fact of life.

          • Gerrymandering in the HOD is certainly a factor for the huge GOP majority. The State Senate map however is very favorable to Democrats, They are still in the minority.

      • AnninVA26

        Virginia’s economy and job growth are slow to stagnant. I hope that its citizens go for a capitalist change. Sadly, we have the Northern Virginia counties to our north – and like NYC in NY – that’s a tough hill to climb.

        • MD Russ

          Actually, Virginia economic and job growth are above the national average, thanks to Northern Virginia and the Tidewater, which you criticize for some reason. However, if you want to see “slow to stagnant” then just wait until the Capitalist-in-Chief starts cutting Federal employment and discretionary spending.

  • Samuel Conner

    I suggest the biggest loser next to Jackson Miller is Hal Parrish. Hal filed to run for Delegate in Va-50 once Miller won the Clerk race. Jackson is not going to be Clerk of the Court this time around. Is he planning to step down and give Hal the nomination, or are they going to slug it out, or did Hal just lose a filing fee?

    • James Young

      Hal hasn’t raised any money in the latest report. I suspect that he’ll bow out gracefully. My suspicion is that his candidacy was wholly contingent on Jackson’s victory in the Clerk’s race.

      • Samuel Conner

        I suspect you are correct…

  • CVLiberty

    It’s clerk of court. No one cares. Dems do a little more because they want to have wins now. Wake me up when it’s a race for a position that people care about.

    • This is the attitude that let them win. Every one of these positions is useful, if the person doing the job is committed to make the most of the job.

    • nero88888

      you right wing vermin are a fringe minority.

  • nero88888

    conservatism is a mental illness.

  • I didn’t realize Albo was retiring. That seat is gone. So is Dudenhefer’s and unless Miller is from a very conservative part of PWC or is running simultaneously for re-election, his seat is probably also at risk.
    I think I remember Lingamfelter having a tough time in 13′ and Marshall should be toast.
    Only positive is that Perriollo and Northam are going to spend the next several months beating each other up and trying to prove themselves the bigger extremist.

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  • E. Burke

    If Republicans are unwilling to turn out for an important local election they do not deserve to win. Republicans in Prince Republicans in Prince William iln recent years have been doing the bidding of the liberal corporate donor class that wants housing for their low wage immigrant workers. As a result the demographics of the country have changed drastically in a direction that clearly favors Dems. The corporate donor class is destroying the GOP.

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