The spoiler effect in Suffolk politics

Published 9:34 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reckon Aaron Johnson will be on Sheriff Raleigh Isaacs’ Christmas card list this year?

Simple electoral math suggests that Suffolk’s longtime incumbent sheriff can thank two groups for his election to a sixth term: the 48 percent of the electorate who voted for him and, crucially, the 11 percent who voted for Johnson, the young Newport News deputy sheriff who ran an underfunded and predictably unsuccessful campaign for Isaacs’ job.

But for Johnson’s 2,500 votes in the Nov. 5 election, Isaacs would have been in a dogfight with well-heeled challenger Jen Pond — and perhaps in the ranks of the involuntarily retired after all the votes were counted. The so-called protest votes for Johnson almost certainly would have gone to Pond in a two-person race.


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Spoiler candidates have become prominent in Suffolk politics. A commenter on our newspaper’s website made up a verb for the recent trend, observing that Pond had been “Bredemeyered.”

He referenced attorney Arthur Bredemeyer, whose 11 percent (notice a trend?) of the vote in last year’s mayoral race accomplished little but to ensure incumbent Linda Johnson’s re-election by a razor-thin margin over challenger Leroy Bennett.

Look for Bennett to face a similar landscape next fall when he tries to reclaim a City Council seat by challenging Councilman Charles Brown in the Cypress Borough. A Clinton Jenkins candidacy would favor Brown, who at this writing looks politically vulnerable to a Bennett challenge.

It should be noted that, despite some conspiracy theories, not a shred of evidence suggests that Bredemeyer and Aaron Johnson were anything but misguided or naïve in their candidacies.

That’s not the case in Virginia’s recent gubernatorial race, where another spoiler, Libertarian Robert Sarvis, faces legitimate questions about the role that a major Democratic Party benefactor played in getting Sarvis’ name on the ballot.

Campaign finance reports show that a political action committee funded by Austin, Texas, software billionaire Joe Liemandt paid professional petition circulators to gather signatures for Sarvis, who ultimately got 6.5 percent of the vote statewide last week.

If Sarvis hadn’t been on the ballot, it’s not hard to imagine a Gov.-elect Ken Cuccinelli, instead of Terry McAuliffe, making transition plans to succeed Bob McDonnell in Richmond.

Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is