By Carten Cordell Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
Alexander, D-Norfolk, has been in the House of Delegates since 2002, and with his ties to the Norfolk community, he was seen by many to be the most logical heir to the 5th District Senate seat.
He appeared so strong that the Republicans didn’t bother fielding an opponent during the breakneck campaign that followed Gov. Bob McDonnell’s July 25 announcement of the special election.
Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, said an opponent would have needed more time, and an equally impressive resume, to take on someone with Alexander’s experience in a district that, by design, is heavily Democratic.
“Unless they had a candidate ready, who wanted to run — and I think in this Senate district, it needed to be an African-American — unless they had that candidate, then it didn’t make a lot of sense for (Republicans) to spend the money, time and energy to go recruit a candidate,” Kidd said.
“This is the inevitable result of the way we redistrict. It’s a sad commentary that both political parties essentially say ‘that’s a Democratic district’ or ‘that’s a Republican district.’ Increasingly, in these really safe districts, they simply don’t put up an opponent.”
Virginia law states that no special election can be held within 55 days of a primary or general election. With two months left before the finale of one of the most contentious election seasons in state history, Tuesday’s special election left little time for the GOP to lead an assault on the seat.
“This one probably was just not worth the effort,” said John McGlennon, chair of the Department of Government at William & Mary University in Williamsburg. “There was very little chance that the Republicans could have succeeded in this district. While they would probably at least make a token effort normally, this probably just didn’t seem like the best use of their limited time and resources.”
Still, the void left by Miller is certain to be felt. The late senator— who died of stomach cancer on July 3, a day before her 78th birthday — had held the post for 25 years. In 1983, became the first woman and African-American member of the House of Delegates.
“Yvonne Miller was an institution,” Kidd said. “She was a giant as both a black legislator and a woman. I think, short of a biological gender difference that can’t be made up, I can’t think of someone else that could come in and began to fill her shoes and serve the community, district and the region as well as she did, other than Kenny Alexander.”
Alexander’s legislative experience and strength in the district made him the logical successor to Miller.
The 5th State Senate District also has been a Democratic stalwart for some time. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, no Republican has eclipsed 36 percent of the vote in the district in a statewide election since 2008.
Kidd said that with Alexander having been reared in Norfolk, from a family that owned a prominent funeral home in the area, his ties to the community make him a strong advocate for Miller’s base.
“He’s a smart guy and he understands issues really well,” Kidd said. “He knows the district really well. I think he is as rooted in the community as she was, and he has spent (a decade) in the House of Delegates, representing part of what would be that Senate district. I think he is very capable.”
Carten Cordell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org