Luis Fortuño (Law ‘85)

The November 2008 election will be remembered by the clarion call of a single word: change.

It propelled voters to support a broad vision of new possibilities—including an African-American president—and led to a tide of blue that surged across the nation.

In Puerto Rico, the same call for “cambio” led to a different result—a Republican won the governor’s seat by a historic landslide, ousting an incumbent mired in scandal.

The victory of Luis Fortuño (Law ’85) was the most dramatic among half a dozen races that UVA alumni won in November balloting.

“Republicans had very little to cheer about on November 4, but Fortuño’s election was a bright spot,” says Larry Sabato (Col ’74), director of UVA’s Center for Politics. “As Republicans look to recover from their disastrous loss of the Hispanic-Latino vote, they might want to feature Fortuño.”

Fortuño, who previously held Puerto Rico’s sole nonvoting seat in Congress, galvanized voters with a message similar to that of President-elect Barack Obama.

“My message all along was that we had to pull together, that we had lost hope, our ability to dream,” Fortuño told the New York Times. “It is the only way to go.”

In Other Races

While Fortuño gained from change, more UVA alumni benefited from the status quo.

Texas and Virginia each saw two incumbents returned to the U.S. Congress. Republican John Cornyn (Law ’95), the junior Senator from Texas, retained the seat he won in 2002 by a margin of 12 percentage points. On the other end of the political spectrum, Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee (Law ’75) also was returned to Congress, where she has represented Texas’ 18th District since 1995.

In Virginia, incumbent Republican J. Randy Forbes (Law ’77) of Tidewater defeated first-time challenger Andrea Miller for the 4th District seat in Congress, and Democrat Rick Boucher (Law ’71) of Abingdon was uncontested in the 9th District.

The retirement of one UVA alumnus, longtime Republican Sen. John Warner (Law ’53), signaled a major shift in Virginia politics. “John Warner had tremendous clout on defense issues, and Virginia will miss that seniority tremendously,” Sabato says.

But Sabato predicts a successful senatorial debut for Mark Warner (no relation), a Democrat who defeated Republican James Gilmore (Col ’71, Law ’77) to join Democrat Jim Webb in the U.S. Senate. “Webb worked well with John Warner, and the expectation is that he and Mark Warner will make a solid team, too,” Sabato says.

Sabato’s analytical prowess became a story in itself during the election cycle. The “Crystal Ball” Web site was almost perfect in predicting the outcome of races around the country. Such acumen depends on the help of staff members and countless personal contacts, but more than anything it is the fruit of Sabato’s lifelong interest.

“I’ve followed politics on a daily basis since 1960,” says Sabato. “When other more normal kids were memorizing baseball statistics, I was committing to memory all the election returns.”

UVA alumni in Congress

Winners in 2008 election

U.S. Representative from Texas Sheila Jackson Lee (Law ‘75)

Frederick C. “Rick” Boucher (Law ’71): Democratic U.S. Representative from Virginia. Former Virginia state Senator and Delegate. A member of Congress since 1983.

John Cornyn (Law ’95): Republican U.S. Senator from Texas. Former Texas Supreme Court Judge and state attorney general. Member of Congress since 2002.

J. Randy Forbes (Law ’77): Republican U.S. Representative from Virginia. Former Virginia state senator and delegate. Member of Congress since 2001.

Robert Durden Inglis (Law ’84):  Republican U.S. Representative from South Carolina. Former private practice lawyer and member of the Greenville County Republican Party executive committee. Member of Congress since 2005.

Sheila Jackson Lee (Law ’75): Democratic U.S. Representative from Texas. Former Houston City Councilwoman and municipal judge. A member of Congress since 1995.

Existing members

Evan Bayh (Law ’81): Democratic U.S. Senator from Indiana (son of Birch Evan Bayh). Former Indiana governor and Indiana secretary of state. Member of Congress since 1998.

Christopher Samuel “Kit” Bond (Law ’63): Republican U.S. Senator from Missouri. Former Missouri governor and state assistant attorney general. Member of Congress since 2001.

Edward Moore “Ted” Kennedy (Law ’59): Democratic U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (brother of former President John F. Kennedy). Former private practice lawyer and assistant district attorney. Member of Congress since 1962.

Clarence William Nelson (Law ’68): Democratic U.S. Senator from Florida. Former Florida state treasurer and crew member of the 24th flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Member of Congress beginning in 1979.

Sheldon Whitehouse (Law ’82): Democratic U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. Former U.S. attorney and state attorney general. Elected to Congress in 2006.