- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

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No matter which candidates claim victory tonight — should we actually know the results by then — voters in the District’s suburbs should be the biggest winners of all.

The region stands to gain government goodies because the hotly contested campaigns — fought on the battleground of our back yards — signaled a major shift in political power in the Old Dominion and the Free State.

In the past, statewide candidates from both parties spent more time campaigning north of Baltimore and south of Richmond. Our suburban precincts were virtually ignored.

Not anymore.

In the final hours leading up to Election Day, the increasing importance of the Washington region became evident. The Democratic and Republican candidates and their star-power supporters made lots of high-profile pitches in every nook and cranny of Northern Virginia and in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Sure, the candidates crisscrossed their respective red and blue states trying to get voters to the polls today. But they spent the bulk of their schedules scavenging within striking distance of the Washington Monument, demonstrating, in part, the elevated stature of the voter-rich communities linked by the Capital Beltway.

Much is being made about how important the two U.S. Senate races are on the national front as their outcomes may determine which political party controls Congress.

But the candidates of national importance have to win over the home folks. So, where else should Sen. George Allen of Virginia spend the Sunday before Election Day but at a tailgate party at FedEx Field getting the most mileage he can muster from his father’s legacy as coach of the Washington Redskins? And, it is no accident that major national and statewide candidates in Maryland spent their last Sunday praying in black churches in Prince George’s County, from Fort Washington to Temple Hills to Capitol Heights to Clinton, where a predominance of the state’s black Democratic voters reside.

Look, there was former President Bill Clinton in Upper Marlboro on Sunday rallying support for Democratic senatorial candidate Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and gubernatorial candidate Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. There Mr. Clinton was again yesterday in Alexandria trying to fire up the party faithful for former Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr. in his surprising quest to become the next junior senator from Virginia.

Look, there was former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani stumping in Asburn for Mr. Allen and in Glenn Dale for Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who attended several church services and a phone-bank rally in Upper Marlboro, in his bid for re-election.

Not to be outdone, Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele stopped in Silver Spring and Landover on Sunday, bolstered by endorsements last week from black ministers in Lanham and black Democratic leaders in Prince George’s.

Front and center with Mr. O’Malley on Sunday stood his running mate, Prince George’s Delegate Anthony G. Brown, trolling for votes in Fort Washington, campaigning door to door in Bowie and attending a forum in a Potomac synagogue. Yesterday, they were joined by former Vice President Al Gore (Where has he been hiding?) in Aspen Hill.

OK, I’ve lost count. Just how many times has media darling Sen. Barack Obama raised the rafters for Democrats around here?

We welcome all this attention, which we hope portends a new political era for the Washington region. Traditionally, the decadeslong feud between liberal Maryland and conservative Virginia lawmakers left regional representatives and their more urban issues out in the cold.

Not anymore.

Still, how will the region’s rise in population and power translate into a force to be reckoned with come January as the legislatures in Annapolis and Richmond convene? If so, what rewards can Washington suburbanites — and D.C. residents, for that matter — expect for their valuable votes? Just think: The District also stands to benefit if the suburban jurisdictions finally are able to flex their political muscles in the years ahead.

Note that Mr. Webb and Mr. Allen are both Fairfax County residents. Mr. Steele, who grew up in the city, lives in Prince George’s, as does Mr. Brown. Mr. O’Malley frequently points to his Rockville roots. Two Democratic candidates for statewide office in Maryland — Montgomery State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler running for attorney general and Delegate Peter Franchot running for comptroller — hail from Montgomery. Their victories also would bode well for the Washington suburbs.

In the potential shifting balance of power on the statewide level, for example, will the long-standing feud for leadership in Prince George’s fiefdom remain with County Executive Jack B. Johnson or return to former County Executive Wayne K. Curry, depending on the outcome of today’s senatorial vote?

More important, when the victorious senators from Maryland and Virginia take their seats in the U.S. Capitol next year, will they even remember their promises to local voters and local issues? It’s up to the regional electorate to hold them accountable.

For starters, those elected definitely will owe it to suburban voters to focus their attention on the common issues that affect this region most, such as growing gridlock. No matter where you sit stuck in traffic, we need lawmakers to stop their political bickering and get serious about border-crossing transportation projects.

With razor-thin margins in polls, these statewide campaigners were fighting to the finish on the Potomac River’s shoreline. And the Washington region’s voters cannot let the victors forget their value.

Not anymore.

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