Barbara Favola scored a hard-fought primary victory Tuesday night in the state’s 31st Senate District, besting Jaime Areizaga-Soto nearly 2-to-1, according to unofficial results.
“We got it!” Favola, an Arlington County Board member, said to a group of about 50 campaign workers, volunteers and supporters in her home near Key Elementary School.
She will face Republican Caren Merrick of McLean in November for the seat being vacated by retiring state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple. Merrick has been quietly raising money while the two Democrats fought.
Favola, 56, held a bouquet of flowers as she thanked her team and supporters from her foyer. Her home has doubled as campaign headquarters for about six months. Reminders for volunteers and interns were posted on the door; the wall of her dining room was plastered with sign-up sheets for phone banking.
“I feel a sense of relief. I feel a sense of exhilaration. And I feel gratitude toward the voters,” Favola said. “I’m honored the voters placed their confidence in me.”
Supporters pored over results in Favola’s dining room as they came in shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Cheers and applause erupted whenever new precinct results were announced.
'A new Virginia'
Areizaga-Soto, his parents and about 60 supporters, most of them young, gathered in the noisy Clarendon Grill to watch the returns.
The news was bad from the beginning, as Favola led with two-thirds of the vote.
Finally, at about 9:15 p.m., Areizaga-Soto called Favola to concede the election. A few minutes later, he addressed his supporters.
"120 days ago, I said I would give the voters of the 31st District a choice," he said.
"We worked very hard. I'm extremely proud of the work we did," he said. "I'm extremely proud of everything we've done."
Areizaga-Soto spoke to a crowd that included African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and whites. He referenced the diverse coalition that supported his first bid for office.
"We took it to the street and showed this is a new Virginia," he said.
Asked if he would now support Favola, he said he wished her well in the upcoming campaign against Merrick.
Those attending the party included Dranesville Supervisor John Foust of Fairfax County, Arlington School Board Member Sally Baird*, and officials of the Dranesville District Democratic Committee.
"I'm very disappointed for Jaime. He's a great guy. I think he ran a good race," Foust said. "I'm happy for Barbara. I think she's very qualified and will be a great senator."
Favola won 6,544 votes, or about 65 percent of ballots cast, compared to Areizaga-Soto’s 3,574, or 35 percent, according to unofficial results from the state Board of Elections.
The race was marked by brutal attacks that intensified as the primary went along. Favola received Whipple’s endorsement early on, keeping the field narrow either by coincidence or design.
But both candidates spent weeks knocking on doors, making phone calls and asking for money. The Favola campaign made more than 45,000 phone calls and knocked on more than 20,000 doors.
“This will be the team. We’re going to win the general,” Favola said as returns came in.
The core team was of about 20 to 25 interns plus traditional volunteers, Campaign Manager Adam Scott said.
Spending in this race more than doubled that in other state Senate primaries. Favola received thousands of dollars from Senate Democratic leadership, and Areizaga-Soto spent $230,000 of his own money on his campaign. The money helped amplify the attacks.
Areizaga-Soto supporters were critical of party leaders who donated to Favola, saying the money would be better spent in November holding on to the Democratic Party’s tenuous majority in the upper house.
“We wouldn’t have had that criticism if we’d supported Jaime,” Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said. “That’s what this has been about since Day 1.”
Saslaw didn’t hesitate when he said Democrats would “absolutely” hold on to the Senate in the general election, in part because Republicans would be forced to spend money in areas they hadn’t planned on – like Loudoun County.
“I like Jaime. But I advised him against this,” Saslaw said. “I said there’s no way you’re going to win this. She’s an elected official with more than 13 years of experience. I don’t harbor any ill will. But he didn’t listen.”
Arlington County Board Member Jay Fisette was on hand to congratulate Favola.
“This is the best way to lose a colleague – to have her move on to the state Senate,” Fisette said. “I always say it’s important for people on the local level to move on to the state level – because they get it.”
Despite the heated race, the traditional low turnout that dogs Virginia’s odd-numbered year primary races reared its head. Less than 7 percent of total registered voters in the Senate district cast a ballot Tuesday.
Arlington residents Jane and Tom Dorset took time before lunch to cast their vote for Favola.
"She has the experience, really – the experience you need for this kind of position,” Tom Dorset said. “It goes back years."
Editors Bobbi Bowman and Lauren Sausser contributed to this report.
*Correction: Sally Baird was incorrectly identified in earlier editions as a supporter of Areizaga-Soto. She said in a statement to Patch: "I am one of three co-chairs of the 2011 Arlington Democratic Joint Campaign (the entity which supports all Democratic candidates). As a Joint Campaign co-chair, I very purposely remained neutral in all 2011 primary races. I attended the Areizaga-Soto event in my capacity as JC co-chair, and in a show of unity for all our Arlington Democratic candidates."
We apologize to Ms. Baird and our readers.