In my home county of Fairfax, Virginia the Democrat Sharon Bulova edged out the Republican Pat Herrity by 1200 votes in a race for the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Next to the Governor, it is arguably the most influential post in the state and has been a stepping stone to higher office (for Tom Davis who left the Congress this year and Gerry Connolly who succeeded him.)

Why does this matter? It is a stunningly close result in a county that has swung heavily Democratic in recent years and helped turn the state Democratic in U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and presidential elections. George W. Bush tied John Kerry in Fairfax. But by 2008 Barack Obama carried Fairfax 60-39%.

The difference seen last night was, in part, turnout. Approximately 15% for the local election compared to 74% for the 2008 presidential run. Nevertheless, 100,000 people turned out on a slightly snowy day and the Republican almost won. That’s a shocker.

Aside from turnout, of course, Barack Obama was not on the ballot. It makes a difference if the race is not “Obama vs. Eight Years of George Bush,” but rather: “Who’s going be the best local leader?”

Both political parties are reading the gubernatorial tea leaves. Republican Bob McDonnell needs to do better than 39% in Fairfax to win the state. A result in the mid or high 40s in Fairfax would virtually ensure a victory.

Larry Sabato, Virginia’s political guru, had this to say to me last night:

Bulova won but it should not have been this close. This is well over 100,000 votes. . .  The desire for change is still out there–and this time it worked in favor of the GOP. Not a bad sign for McDonnell in November.

Indeed, there may be hope for the Republicans in the era of Obama. And the Democrats can’t bank on the extraordinary 2008 results to repeat themselves in off-year elections.

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