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June 10, 2008

Does Losing Help Political Careers?

posted by Alan Greenblatt

Clinton_and_byrne_2Virginia voters head to the polls today to pick party candidates for congressional races. Perhaps the most important primary is being held just to our west in Fairfax County, a suburban jurisdiction outside of Washington, D.C. Democrats are picking their nominee to succeed Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican who is retiring from a district increasingly trending "D."

The primary between Gerald Connolly, who chairs the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Leslie Byrne has been one of those nasty affairs that almost no one has tuned into. Turnout is expected to be poor. Which makes me wonder whether Byrne has an advantage.

Connolly has been a pretty successful politician in a wealthy and well-managed county. But Byrne may be better known. After serving in the state House, she held the congressional seat for a whopping two years until 1994, when Davis beat her. Five years later, she won a seat in the state Senate. Back in 2005, she was her party's nominee for lieutenant governor, but narrowly lost even as running mate Tim Kaine took the governorship.

In other words, she is one of those politicians who always seems to be on some ballot or other. Her career has had at least as many hits as misses, but she's a familiar quantity. My sense is that such people often do pretty well in primaries, where simple name recognition carries them a long way, but often go onto defeat amidst the greater scrutiny of general election campaigns.

The Democratic victor will face Keith Fimian, a little-known businessman who has the GOP line to himself.


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