A look back at the primaries

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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A lot of people — me included, I will admit — were surprised by the extent by which Isle of Wight Republican voters rejected Rex Alphin’s bid for the 64th District party nomination.

Alphin didn’t just lose Isle of Wight; he lost it big while going on to lose the party’s district nomination to Suffolk’s Emily Brewer. Fifty five percent of Isle of Wight’s Republican voters supported Brewer over Alphin. Even more striking, she won all eight of the precincts north of Windsor, some by substantial margins. Alphin carried the six smaller, more rural precincts of the county’s south end.

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Alphin was reticent to discuss the defeat when interviewed by Diana McFarland days after the primary, and that’s understandable. But to the extent that this primary is at least a partial portrait of political attitudes in Isle of Wight County, it is worth examining, without any desire to embarrass Rex Alphin. One comment that came from a Republican in a position to know what happened is that the suburban/rural divide in Isle of Wight is a lot more pronounced than many of us realized.

Rex Alphin ran as a son of the soil, a farmer who understands the 64th District better than anyone else thanks to his years of making a living from the land and serving the county in various capacities.

Folks in Northern Isle of Wight, this observer believes, weren’t buying it. They feel unconnected to the county’s rural history and roots and may have expressed that disconnect through their primary votes.

That’s can be a troubling observation for a county in which more than half the population was not born here. If we indeed have a significant number of residents who feel they are either not welcome or don’t share a common county vision, then we are not communicating very well.

I suspect the Alphin loss was more directly partisan than that, however. The Republican Party’s Virginia leadership actively campaigned against Rex Alphin. He checked of the GOP’s obligatory positions, proclaiming he was anti-abortion and pro-Second Amendment and in favor of more “choices” in education and, of course, lower taxes, but the GOP leadership didn’t believe he was sufficiently pure in ideology and attacked him in a way I don’t recall having seen before in an inter-party contest like this one.

Then, there was the barrage of endorsement letters that folks wrote on Alphin’s before. They may have been just a bit too much for some party members. And, finally, the Board of Supervisors’ election of Alphin to serve a third straight term as chairman upset a lot of people, especially when he announced shortly after that election that he was running for the delegate seat. Whatever the cause, it was a pretty stunning win for Emily Brewer, a very personable and attractive Suffolk resident who will be the party’s standard bearer in November.

On the Democratic side, a totally unknown Carrollton resident, John Wandling, won a majority of his party’s votes in Isle of Wight, with support that ranged up and down the county. He lost the primary bid to Suffolk’s Rebecca Colaw, but came pretty close in a three-way race.

While the primary and its results may be challenging to understand, they are also quite positive signs of political interest here. Both political parties fielded responsible candidates. That has to be viewed as a positive trend.

And the turnout in both primaries showed a significant amount of voter interest. Twenty two percent of the county’s registered voters went to the polls to cast ballots in one of the two primaries. That’s not bad for party primaries, and it’s an indication that the fall gubernatorial election turnout will be significant.