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Richard "Rip" Sullivan Jr., show in a file photo, won the 48th District Democratic caucus, and will go on to face Republican David Foster in the Aug. 19 special election. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

He seemed to have a leg up on the competition from the very start, and Richard “Rip” Sullivan Jr. emerged the victor in Sunday’s Democratic caucus, moving on as the party’s nominee in the Aug. 19 special election to succeed Del. Bob Brink (D-48th).

Sullivan, an attorney who has served on the Fairfax County Park Authority board and the Housing and Redevelopment Authority board, said he aims if elected both to work across the aisle and rebuild the Democrats’ fortunes in the House of Delegates. Republicans hold 68 seats in the 100-seat body.

“I’m a builder – I want to bring those skills to Richmond,” he said. “Being in the minority is awful. We need to be out around the state, building this party.”

After votes were tallied, Sullivan led the voting but did not have the absolute majority as required under “instant-runoff” rules of the caucus. Following four rounds where the lowest vote-getters were eliminated, Sullivan emerged on top.

A total of 2,126 voters cast ballots at Yorktown and McLean high schools in a race that took just six days from start to finish. Because of the date set by House Speaker William Howell (R-Fredericksburg) for the special election, political parties faced a July 7 deadline for having their nominees in place.

Sullivan may have benefited from being the only McLean candidate in the race; all other six contenders came from Arlington. The district’s composition is about two-thirds Arlington, with the remainder spread among precincts in McLean and the Falls Church area of Fairfax County.

But Sullivan also clearly was best-prepared, hitting the ground running with campaign mailings and robocalls.

Much of the Arlington political establishment coalesced around Paul Holland, an environmental consultant and son of former state Sen. Edward Holland. But Sullivan dominated the voting; he won 905 first-round votes to 387 for Holland and 327 for Yorktown Civic Association president Andrew Schneider. The remaining candidates trailed.

But the first round left Sullivan about 7 percent shy of an absolute majority. He got there after candidates Jacqueline Wilson, Yasmine Taeb, Atima Omara-Alwala and David Boling were eliminated and their votes were reallocated as had been directed by voters on their ballots.

After the four rounds of reallocation, Sullivan had 1,111 votes – 53 percent – to 523 for Holland and 444 for Schneider. He now goes on to face Republican nominee David Foster, whose late entry into the race suddenly makes what had been seen as a Democratic stronghold more competitive.

While most of the Arlington establishment supported Holland, Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) backed Sullivan, as did a number of prominent Fairfax elected leaders. Jarrod Nagurka, who had served as Hope’s political director in his recent bid for Congress, ran Sullivan’s campaign.

Throughout the one-week campaign, the Democratic candidates didn’t differ much on issues.

Arlington Democrats have used the instant-runoff process in two earlier elections, but it was the first time it was extended to a race that included Fairfax County.

“The goal of this system is to ensure majority rule – we want to encourage learning about other candidates,” said Arlington County Democratic Committee chairman Kip Malinosky. “It helps empower Democratic voters . . . it encourages positive campaigns.”

The winner of the special election will serve until December 2015. Given the large majority of Republicans in the House of Delegates, the election results won’t have an impact on politics in Richmond, although Republicans surely salivate at the prospect of swiping a seat viewed as reliably Democratic.