On March 26, Democracy for America, one of the largest political action committees in the country, launched its Purple to Blue Project, “a national, multi-year effort to win state House and Senate chambers across the country by making so-called ‘purple’ state legislative seats decisively Democratic,” according to the announcement.
Battlefield No. 1: Northern Virginia.
Within the Purple to Blue effort, the PAC boasted it would spend more than $750,000 in five targeted Virginia state house contests, three of which covered parts of Loudoun – the 34th, 86th and 87th District races.
DFA focused on local swing districts that voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 yet were led by Republican state legislators. In the 34th, 86th and 87th, respectively, those lawmakers were Dels. Barbara Comstock, Tom Rust and David Ramadan.
On Nov. 5, Comstock, Rust and Ramadan carried their districts – albeit in barnburner fashion – and sent a message to state and national political operatives that Northern Virginia isn’t yet the steady Democratic stronghold it’s often made out to be.
The threadlike margins, however, demonstrate tight races are likely in the years ahead.
Out of more than 70,000 votes cast altogether in the 34th, 86th and 87th districts, the combined margin of victory was 633 votes. Comstock bested Kathleen Murphy by 422 votes out of nearly 30,000 cast; Rust escaped with a 54-vote victory over Democrat Jennifer Boysko; and Ramadan defeated John Bell by 187 out of more than 20,400 votes.
In addition to the three initially-targeted contests, DFA endorsed and contributed $7,000 to 32nd District Democratic candidate Elizabeth Miller, essentially incorporating her into the Purple to Blue Program.
Miller lost her race to incumbent Tag Greason by more than 600 votes out of 22,000 cast – a margin closer than many political observers expected.
DFA’s lone victory in Virginia’s 2013 House races came in Hampton Roads where Democrat Monty Mason defeated incumbent Mike Watson in the 93rd District.
Beyond the PAC’s failure in helping secure victories for Northern Virginia Democrats, the Howard Dean-founded organization seems to have fallen short on its funding promises.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money in state politics, DFA contributed $130,000 in Virginia for the 2013 cycle – nowhere near the $750,000 first announced.
Neil Sroka, communications director for DFA, said not all of his organization’s financial offerings would be recorded on campaign finance reports. For instance, funds for DFA staffers helping with the races wouldn’t be shown on financial reporting.
“We put a ton of resources in the races,” Sroka said. “We’re proud of being the top progressive organizational donor directly to these candidates.”
Sroka said the Purple to Blue candidates ran “phenomenal races,” and that this year was essentially DFA’s “down-payment” on flipping the Virginia state house red to blue.
Purple to Blue is a “national, multi-year effort,” Sroka stressed. He also noted that DFA volunteers contributed more than 750 hours to its endorsed races and made more than 23,000 contact attempts – calls and doors knocked.
The tight nature of the races show DFA selected contests that were truly up for grabs, Sroka added.
A Republican strategist for the Rust campaign, Luisa Guerra, said her campaign, while taking all “the players into account,” always maintained focus on its “own ground game.”
“Of all the things that could give me anxiety, DFA was not one of them,” Guerra said. “If a PAC is going to play, it’s going to play. My job is to create a winning strategy and execute.”