He Called His Friends to Win the Primary

Posted January 12, 2009 at 5:51pm

One way to win a primary: Call all your friends the day before and remind them to vote.

That’s how Joe Murray, 33, special assistant to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), became the Republican nominee to represent the 46th district in the Virginia House of Delegates with only 20 votes.

“I like to describe it as block, tackle and run,” he said. “Just really simple.”

It all began when, in early December, Del. Brian Moran (D) decided at the last minute to resign his post to focus on a gubernatorial run. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) called for a special election to take place Jan. 13, the day before the body’s 2009 session opens. This left the Republican Party scrambling to find a candidate to run in the Dec. 16 primary.

“Because it’s such a Democratic district, it’s not like there were a whole bunch of [Republicans] that planned to run in November,” said Chris Marston, chairman of the Alexandria Republican Party. “But the Democrats had two people that were planning to run then.”

On the GOP side, local realtor Phil Cefaratti threw his hat into the ring, as did blogger Sasha Gong. It wasn’t until about 4 p.m. the day before the primary that Murray decided to run and filed the appropriate paperwork.

“Here’s the deal: I really got into the race for the main purpose of telling my daughter that I was a candidate for a state elected office,” Murray said. “If I win, that would be terrific. If I lose, I’ll be able to tell her a great story.”

Murray’s 18-month-old daughter, Joella, was born with a rare skin disease, epidermolysis bullosa, and at birth was given a 50 percent chance of survival. Murray said the challenges that she faces to survive each day made him want to take a chance on the election. “It would be great to tell her that she inspired me,” he said.

After filing for the race — and securing a baby sitter — Murray got on his BlackBerry and began calling everyone he knew in the district, which covers Alexandria and parts of Fairfax. He says most of the people that he spoke with were unaware of the election, as were most district residents. Murray spent Election Day at the polling location introducing himself to voters, and he says this is how he won the four votes that put him just above the other Republicans.

“Here I am the GOP nominee for this tremendous honor, and it felt terrific,” he said.

Now Murray will face off against Democrat Charniele Herring in a heavily blue district while juggling life as a father, third-year law student at Catholic University and Hill staffer.

“It’s like anything,” he said. “You just put your head down and do it, Lord willing.”

Murray has only been working in Wilson’s office for a few months, but he says this experience helped him decide to run in the 46th district. As a special assistant, Murray primarily deals with letters and phone calls from constituents in the South Carolina district.

“I see pretty much the whole gamut of what the constituents of the 2nd district care about,” he said. “There’s an incredible variety of issues that come through the door of a Congressional district of several hundred thousand.”

As for the Congressman, he says he is excited about Murray’s run. “He has been a hardworking and dedicated member of our staff, and I know he will bring strong and common-sense leadership to serving his community,” Wilson said.