Hundreds of Northern Virginia Democrats packed into a Volvo dealership outside of Washington, D.C., Saturday night to celebrate the career of longtime Rep. James P. Moran and begin the process of replacing him.
Since Moran's January announcement that he wouldn't seek a 13th term , at least 11 Democrats have thrown their hats into the ring . Nearly all of them appeared at the Saturday event to rub elbows with potential supporters and stake their claim to the safe Democratic seat.
Former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer, who hosted the festivities at his dealership in Alexandria, won the night's straw poll decisively with 25 percent of the vote. Community activist Lavern Chatman and state Del. Patrick Hope took second and third place.
The straw poll was held as part of an annual Mardis Gras celebration to raise money for the Mount Vernon District Democratic Committee. Nearly 500 people attended the event, where tickets cost $45 and up, depending on the sponsorship level.
Moran, the guest of honor, donned Mardis Gras beads and greeted attendees with a beer in hand. He predicted that the winner of the June 10 Democratic primary will likely win by the same margin Beyer did on Saturday.
“I think that anybody that gets 25 percent of the vote will win. It’ll be a plurality,” Moran told CQ Roll Call. While Moran did not vote in the straw poll — if he did, he said, everyone would be asking whom he voted for and, “I’m not good at being discreet” — he noted the candidates will need to emphasize their work ethic and credibility within the community to win the primary.
“They’re going to have to do a lot of grass roots,” he said, “but they’re also going to have to raise a lot of money.”
Among Democratic insiders in Northern Virginia, Beyer is being talked about as the candidate who can raise enough money necessary to put his message on the airwaves in the prohibitively expensive D.C. media market. Beyer was a fundraising bundler for President Barack Obama and has run statewide three times.
“I want to run a world-class campaign, which will require funding,” Beyer told CQ Roll Call after winning the straw poll. “But I don’t think money alone wins elections. There are many, many instances of people that had the most money that didn’t win.”
Paul Friedman, a member of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, said many of the insiders had already decided who they were going to vote for — and Beyer and state Sen. Adam Ebbin were emerging as the “top two” contenders.
Most Democrats who attended the Mardis Gras celebration milled around the dealership wearing stickers pledging their support for one of the candidates. Chatman supporters got into the spirit of the event with their own Mardis Gras beads decorated with Chatman’s name.
For the few undecided voters in the dealership, Saturday’s event helped them narrow their choices. But some are still struggling to pick just one candidate from the crowded field of Democrats with similar policy stances.
Following the candidates’ two-minute speeches, Erik Altieri of Clifton, Va., said Hope, progressive radio host Mark Levine and Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille stood out among the field. Altieri said they seemed “willing to take strong, progressive stances on issues,” but he has yet to decide among those three.
Both Levine and Hope emphasized their commitment to confronting Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress. In a fiery speech, Levine said he is the “aggressive progressive,” while Hope told CQ Roll Call he would “call out Democrats that aren’t representing our progressive values.”
Between the candidate speeches and the lively band, the Mount Vernon District Democratic Committee also paid tribute to Moran. All of the candidates praised Moran’s service, with state Del. Mark Sickles calling Moran “my hero in many ways.” Moran was also serenaded by four members of the Democratic committee with a personalized version of the song “Stay (Just a Little Bit Longer).”
The night was complete with southern favorites including fried chicken and king cake, and the party atmosphere allowed candidates to mingle with voters and their competitors as the celebration went on.
The one candidate not in attendance was activist and Navy veteran Bruce Shuttleworth, who finished last in the straw poll.
Presumably, whichever candidate stands apart from the crowded field on the day of the primary will win a seat in Congress. Virginia’s 8th District, which includes the inner suburbs of D.C., is considered Safe Democratic by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
The complete results of the straw poll are as follows: Former Lt. Gov. and Ambassador Don Beyer (25%); activist Lavern Chatman (20%); state Del. Patrick Hope (19%); state Del. Mark Sickles (12%); state Sen. Adam Ebbin (10%); state Del. Charniele Herring (3%); Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille (2%); state Del. Alfonso Lopez (2%); Professor Derek Hyra (2%); Mark Levine (2%); Bruce Shuttleworth (1%).