Assessing the damage

McDonnells’ trial, Cantor’s loss shake up politics in Virginia

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Print this page by Jessica Sabbath
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AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown

Political discussion in Virginia this year was supposed to focus on the re-election bid of Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and races for two House seats being vacated by retiring congressmen. Major events in recent months, however, have radically altered the commonwealth’s political landscape.

The corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell, and his wife, Maureen, turned the Virginia political world on its head, dominating headlines in August and early September — right as the traditional campaign season typically heats up.

McDonnell is the first governor in the commonwealth’s history to be convicted of a felony.  During the six-week trial, details about the couple’s marriage and the gifts and loans they accepted from businessman Jonnie Williams overshadowed any political coverage. McDonnell’s conviction prompted calls for more changes in Virginia’s ethics laws.

Even before the trial, this had been a historic election cycle. In June, tea-party challenger Dave Brat stunned the nation by defeating Rep. Eric Cantor in the Republican primary.  The upset marked the first time a majority leader has lost a primary since the position was created in 1899.

Cantor’s departure leaves Virginia without incumbents in three House races.  Two other long-term congressmen are retiring: Rep. Jim Moran, D-8th, who has served for almost 24 years, and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th, who has been in the House for 34 years.

The stories below evaluate trends emerging from these events. The first story assesses the damage done to Virginia’s reputation by the McDonnells’ convictions. Political analysts say the General Assembly needs to move quickly to repair Virginia’s tarnished image.

Another story takes a look at the bigger picture in Cantor’s defeat. How will the rise of tea-party populism, attacking the relationship between big business and the Republican Party, affect Virginia and the nation?

Virginia Business also looks at the race for Cantor’s former seat in Virginia’s 7th District between Brat and Democrat Jack Trammell.  Oddly enough, both are professors at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.

In another intriguing House race, Republican state Del. Barbara Comstock is battling Fairfax County Board of Supervisors member John Foust to replace Wolf in the rapidly growing exurbs of Northern Virginia.

Finally, Republican Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Robert Sarvis are challenging  Warner for his Senate seat.  Gillespie faces an uphill battle in overcoming the former governor’s name recognition and fundraising edge as the Republican Party attempts to wrest control of the Senate.

Will Gillespie top Brat as a giant killer in November? In this election year, all bets are off.

How will the McDonnell verdict change Virginia? by Gary Robertson

2014 ethics legislation made minor reforms

GOP schism that cost him his job could lead to more gridlock. by Tim Loughran

Opinions are split on Virginia’s diminished voice in Congress and federal spending in the commonwealth. by Tim Loughran

Election cycle offers two intriguing races in Republican strongholds. by Gary Robertson


Warner has fundraising, name-recognition advantage over Gillespie. by Robert Burke

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