We knew pretty early in the night at Amit Singh's victory party that the candidate would lose. The first hint was nebulous: It was that Singh's opponent Mark Ellmore, a social conservative who'd been running for two years, had blanketed the district with signs, and that there were areas (especially in Fairfax County, which contained almost half the precincts) with no Singh presence whatsoever. "They needed more visibility," said Aaron Biterman, who'd voted for Singh then volunteered for Vern McKinley. "We needed more damn signs!" said Singh, tongue planted in cheek.
The second sign was unmissable: Singh was doing worse in his base of Arlington County than Ellmore was doing in Fairfax, and by 8:30 p.m., only Fairfax was out. "I did one canvass in Fairfax County," said Singh web guru Kevin Chand. "Our volunteers were in their 20s, living on the Orange Line. They didn't have cars! We did one trip to Reston and that was it."
So, Singh was blunt early in the night when I asked how he felt about the vote. "That mailer with the fake quote killed us," he said. The mailer in question was an 11th hour hit job that quoted scattered sources, including the blog of Mark Blacknell, to paint Singh as an anti-troop false Republican who refused to vote for John McCain. Singh referred to the current mission in Iraq as "operation baby-sit," so Ellmore claimed he "insults our military professionals." Singh was about as disappointed as half the GOP when McCain lucked into the nomination, so he was, obviously, a libertarian who would destroy the party. A picture of Singh and Ron Paul completed the attack.
Singh battled back quickly, getting the Washington Post to force Ellmore into retracting his claim that Singh had told the paper about the McCain issue. Press secretary Navdeep Singh (no relation) thought their quick reaction saved the campaign from a 75-25 blowout. But the smear itself cost them the election. "We were on track to win this election," Singh said. "We lost, but we stuck to our principles."
Former Republican activist Bill Lockhart, who'd worked for the district's 2006 candidate (who'd endorsed Singh), was gloomy about the effect of the Ellmore mailer. "Stuff like that can hurt the whole ticket," Lockhart said. Amit Singh had actually seen Ellmore at the polls and chastised him for the smear; Ellmore put the onus on his 17-year old campaign manager and said he'd apologize after the election.
At the end of the night, given how long he'd known the result, Singh was resigned but gloomy. "There were nights I woke up in a sweat, worrying that I'd let you down," he told a room of very young supporters and volunteers. (I don't think anyone was over 33.) He begged them to stay involved then settled in to party. He would stay involved with the GOP, but he wasn't sure yet if he'd run in two years. (The nomination would probably be his for the taking if he did.)
"I sensed something was wrong with America at its core and culminated in a campaign for Congress," Singh told supporters in an e-mail today, "but it won't end there. No, I'm not seeking the VP nomination."