- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

BRISTOL, Va. - Sen. Barack Obama pledged Thursday to break the 44-year lock Republican presidential candidates have had on Virginia, storming into Appalachia - where he failed to connect in the primary - and crossing the state for an evening rally in more Democrat-friendly Northern Virginia.

“This is our moment, this is our time, and if you will vote for me, I will win Virginia, we will win this election, and we will change the course of history,” Mr. Obama said at the day’s second rally in Prince William County.

At the same time, some of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s backers said a significant number of her supporters remain “upset and angry” over her defeat for the nomination, blaming sexism in the party and its primary process.

But earlier in the day, in this town of 20,000 on the Tennessee line, enthusiastic Obama supporters showed up to greet the senator from Illinois on his first campaign stump event since Mrs. Clinton’s camp said her run will end Saturday. They thanked him for visiting the region, which they said Democrats have ignored.

“They’ll come around. This part of the country has always been hard for Democrats, but it’s changing,” said Charles Gilmer, an 85-year-old dairy farmer from Lebanon, Va., who said after the town hall in Bristol that he thought Mr. Obama would win the general election.

Mr. Gilmer said some voters from the region were worried about the anti-American sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Obama’s former pastor, but noted that Mr. McCain also has past scandals such as being accused of corruption in the 1991 “Keating Five” savings and loan investigation.

Mr. Obama said Mr. McCain’s health care plan doesn’t cover all Americans, “takes care of the healthy and the wealthy” and would weaken the employer-based health care system.

The McCain campaign immediately shot back, saying the freshman senator “has no record of bipartisan success on this issue and his proposal to put the government between Americans and their health care is a plan that even his allies on Capitol Hill think is unrealistic.”

Virginia has long been a Republican Party bastion - the last Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 - but Democrats have won the past two statewide elections, and many strategists in both parties now consider it one of the states that are up for grabs in November.

“It says a lot about somebody about where they choose to start their campaign,” said former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who won in 2001 in part by paying attention to towns like this one long ignored by Democrats.

Mr. Warner, now running for U.S. Senate, embraced Mr. Obama as someone who understands that good ideas don’t come attached with a party label.

Rep. Rick Boucher, Virginia Democrat and an early Obama endorser, said he was a boy the last time a Democratic nominee stumped in the region, home to coal country.

“We have now waited for almost 50 years for the next major party nominee for the presidency to visit,” Mr. Boucher said, adding that it’s the first time since 1964 that the presidential candidates will “seriously compete” in Virginia.

Mr. Obama won Virginia’s Feb. 12 primary by 29 percentage points over Mrs. Clinton, but he has struggled to win lower-income, white voters from the Appalachian regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

But Republicans warned that the Old Dominion would not turn blue so easily.

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