Democratic congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia may be vulnerable for reelection, according to details from an internal poll conducted on behalf of his Republican challenger. Connolly, the three-term Democrat who respresents a chunk of Washington's Northern Virginia suburbs, is reportedly below 50 percent support in the poll, which was leaked to a conservative Virginia politics blog called Bearing Drift and was confirmed by the campaign of Republican candidate Suzanne Scholte.
According to the campaign, Connolly polls at 48 percent against Scholte, and just 26 percent say they are definitely voting for the Democrat. Connolly's approval rating is 45 percent, and in a head-to-head match-up with Scholte among those who know both candidates, he leads her by just one point, 45 percent to 44 percent. The Scholte campaign would not provide the Republican's performance against Connolly among all those polled.
What's Connolly's weakness? After all, the district once held by moderate Republican Tom Davis has grown considerably more Democratic, as has the Northern Virginia region overall. Given his district's proximity to the nation's capital, Connolly represents a large number of federal government employees. In the GOP's banner year of 2010, Connolly squeaked through reelection by fewer than a thousand votes, though in 2012, riding Barack Obama's coattails, he won easily against another GOP candidate with 61 percent of the vote. So why, two years later, might these voters be willing to trade in a liberal Democrat for a less familiar candidate associated with the "less government" message of the GOP?
Scholte's cash-strapped campaign is banking on two issues to help her make the race competitive. One is her cachet with the district's sizable Asian community. A human rights activist, Scholte has worked with political refugees from communist nations, particularly those from North Korea. That gives her a foothold within a group not normally predisposed to Republicans. If her candidacy can increase turnout among the Asian-Americans in Northern Virginia, it might make Scholte competitive.
The second issue is Connolly's vote for the Budget Control Act in 2011. While presidential politics overwhelmed the conversation in the 2012 election, the indiscriminate cuts to the federal budget as a result of the law remain a potent issue in Northern Virginia. The BCA mandated Congress make certain budget cuts or see across-the-board reductions in spending as a result. The law was designed to spook members of Congress into making those cuts, but the gambit didn't work, and after some delays, sequestration of defense spending and other government spending have taken place.
Connolly voted for the BCA, despite the sequestration provisions. (His fellow Northern Virginia Democrat, Jim Moran, voted against it.) Since sequestration cuts became a reality, Connolly has been vocal in his opposition to those cuts, even while the bill he supported provided for the reductions. It's blatant pandering like this that led Scholte to call Connolly a "partisan, bitter hack" in an interview earlier this year with THE WEEKLY STANDARD. According to Scholte's internal poll, 47 percent of those asked said Connolly's support for sequestration would make it "less likely" for them to vote for the Democrat.