Senior Black Democrat Loses Seat After Endorsing Republican
By: Bonnie V. Winston
Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press
Originally posted 6/21/2007
RICHMOND, Va. (NNPA)-He had far less money and a lot less seniority than his opponent.
But A. Donald McEachin had a message compelling enough to sweep him to victory in the Democratic primary election for the Virginia Senate June 5: “Vote for the True Democrat,” his campaign slogan stated.
Voters complied, giving Delegate McEachin 91,700 vote win over veteran Richmond Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, whose defeat ends a 29-year tenure in state political office.
It was a backlash.
A majority of voters apparently were angered at Sen. Lambert for turning his back on Democrat Party loyalty and endorsing conservative, pro-Confederate Republican George Allen in last year’s U.S. Senate race.
To voters and political observers alike, that move alone sealed Sen. Lambert’s fate in the majority-Black 9th District, encompassing parts of Richmond and Henrico and all of Charles City County.
Delegate McEachin, who currently represents the 74th House District, won big majorities in all three jurisdictions, with Lambert loyalists unable to stem the tide of disapproval. Unofficial results show Delegate McEachin winning 58 percent of the vote to Sen. Lambert’s 42 percent. The vote total was 6,145 to 4,418.
Describing himself as happy and humble on Tuesday night, Delegate McEachin was gracious about the man he defeated in his victory remarks to a cheering group of more than 100 supporters.
“Sen. Lambert is to be commended for his 30 years of service, and not just serving, but his willingness to serve,” he said, speaking to the crowd cramming the lobby of his West Broad Street law office.
“He represents one of the finest families in Richmond. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
His wife, jubilant and proud parents and three teenage daughters were nearby as Delegate Mc¬Eachin went on to thank the volunteers, campaign staff, politicians and union officials for their roles in making him a winner.
With the Democratic Party nomination in hand, the 46-year-old Delegate McEachin is a shoo-in to win the November general election and to take office in January. No Republican candidate is vying for the seat, nor any well-funded independents.
Delegate McEachin served in the House of Delegates from 1996 to 2002, before giving up the 74th District seat to run unsuccessfully for attorney general. He regained the seat in 2005 with an upset primary victory over then-Delegate Floyd H. Miles Sr.
Delegate McEachin came into Tuesday’s primary race with recognition from sponsoring a state apology for slavery. He waged the primary with a $125,000 war chest, about a third the size of the $404,000 amassed by Sen. Lambert, 70, who has served in the Virginia legislature since 1978.
An optometrist, Sen. Lambert represented Richmond in the House for eight years. He was first elected to the Senate in 1986. He holds ranking positions on two powerful Senate committees, Finance and Education and Health.
While Sen. Lambert had the money, Del. McEachin had the lion’s share of endorsements. He had the backing of several trade unions, the Virginia Education Association, the Richmond Crusade for Voters and the chairmen of Democratic committees in Richmond and Henrico.
Sen. Lambert’s fall from grace continued as he cut radio ads for Mr. Allen, rode to a Republican campaign rally with Mr. Allen and President Bush in the presidential limousine and was photographed with the president in a pumpkin patch.
All of this came after public revelations that Mr. Allen had used racial slurs in the past and was caught on video at a rally calling his opponent’s campaign worker “macaca,” a derogatory term which means monkey.
Voters turned Sen. Allen out of office, electing Democrat Jim Webb by the slimmest of margins with the key support of African-Americans at the polls.
Sen. Lambert explained then — and during his own Democratic primary battle — that he endorsed Mr. Allen in exchange for Mr. Allen’s support for more federal dollars for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The federal legislation ultimately failed.
Delegate McEachin used the endorsement to hammer away at Sen. Lambert. His ads, urging voters to elect the “True Democrat,” emphasized that “right-wing Republicans will never be the salvation of HBCUs.”
He was endorsed by several state, politicians and several Richmond City Council members. A key endorsement was from Sen. Webb, who made telephone calls and appeared at fundraisers on behalf of Delegate McEachin.
Among those who came to the victory cookout at his law office were: William Ferguson “Fergie” Reid, a co-founder of the Crusade whose historic election in 1967 made him the first African-American elected to the House of Delegates since Reconstruction. Also state Secretary of Administration Viola O. Bakerville, a former member of the House of Delegates from Richmond; and Richmond City Councilmen E. Martin “Marty” Jewell and William J. Pantele.
State Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, who supported Delegate McEachin, went first to the celebration at the McEachin headquarters and later appeared at Sen. Lambert’s election-night gathering at the Hyperlink Café, near Virginia Commonwealth University, where he offered Sen. Lambert his condolences.
“If it’s over, it’s over,” Sen. Lambert said, surrounded by a somber group of about 50 supporters, including family members and friends. A wide-screen television was turned to the Cavaliers-Spurs basketball game.
“I’ve always been able to handle any type of situation,” Sen. Lambert said, noting that many people didn’t understand his reasons for supporting Mr. Allen.
“Some saw it differently,” he said, speaking of the voter backlash. “I accept what the people wanted. I’ve been blessed in many areas of my life. I’ve accomplished a whole lot in my 29 years in office.”
Political analysts said the election should be a warning to politicians.
“It’s a lesson to all incumbents that just because you’ve been there for decades, you can’t do what you want and still be loved by the voters,” said political analyst Larry J. Sabato who heads the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“What Sen. Lambert did was beyond the pale,” Dr. Sabato continued. “A quiet endorsement with your name on a list is one thing. But to campaign for a man (Mr. Allen) who is enormously unpopular in the African-American community, and then appear with another man, George Bush, who is even more unpopular in the African-American community, is just plain stupid.”
Dr. W. Avon Drake, who is on leave from his position as associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Government and Public Affairs, said Sen. Lambert’s reason for endorsing Mr. Allen “was so infantile that it was enough to anger voters.
“Seniority does make a difference,” Dr. Drake continued. “But it’s not a reason for someone to hang around forever, especially not with this fiasco.”