- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama’s victories in Loudoun and Prince William counties proved the importance of both exurbs to the Democratic senator’s triumph in Virginia, while the party’s gains in other regions furthered the state’s turn from red to blue.

“There are swing localities on both sides of the fence,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Prince William and Loudoun now lean Democratic, and you can project a statewide result in part after you see them.”

Mr. Obama won Virginia by more than 228,000 votes to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1964, according to preliminary results by the Virginia State Board of Elections. He took Loudoun County by more than 11,000 votes and won Prince William County by nearly 26,000 votes.

In 2004, President Bush carried the two regions - on the outer fringe of Northern Virginia.

However, inroads made by Democrats in recent races showed that the areas’ political climates were on the verge of change: The 2005 election resulted in a win for Gov. Tim Kaine in Loudoun by roughly 3,500 votes and Prince William by nearly 1,200.

The next year, Jim Webb, the Democratic challenger for a U.S. Senate seat, narrowly won both regions in defeating incumbent Sen. George Allen, a Republican.

“We’ve really built on the ground game that we started with Tim Kaine in ‘05, and we’ve really focused on personal contact with voters,” said Pete Frisbie, chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee.

The change in voting patters in Loudoun and Prince William are also the result in their changing demographics, including population booms and increases among blacks and Hispanics, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Both voting blocs in this year’s election favored Mr. Obama, who will be the country’s first black president.

New residents and increased registration efforts translated to more potential voters: Loudoun County had 16,903 new voter registrations this year, while Prince William had 23,500.

“In Loudoun County specifically, a fair amount of it had to do with how the county is changing in growth and new people that came in and the registration drive,” said Tim Buchholz, chairman of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee. “We basically expanded the number of voters in the county and therefore had brand new voters out there voting.”

Both regions also have been hit by a hurting real estate market. The Web site RealtyTrac.com showed Loudoun County had 490 foreclosure properties in September and Prince William had 1,491.

Mr. Obama’s focus on the economy and an aggressive campaign in which he frequently visited Northern Virginia likely resonated with voters and helped him extend Virginia’s march to blue farther outside the Capital Beltway.

“I think Obama spoke better to the economic challenges that people in Prince William and Loudoun County are facing,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia. “That’s a large factor in his victory.”

Still, Jeff Frederick, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said his party’s losses in Prince William and Loudoun mirrored those elsewhere in the country but weren’t about warring ideologies.

Democrats campaigned on topics in a way that appealed to a broader base of voters, he said.

“Barack Obama frankly did a better job of articulating our issues than we did,” Mr. Frederick said.

Elsewhere in the state, Democrats made further inroads in regions such as in the 2nd and 5th Congressional districts.

Mr. Obama won the 2nd District by more than 5,900 votes, and voters there also unseated Republican incumbent Rep. Thelma Drake. Mr. Bush won the region by more than 39,500 votes in 2004.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain won the 5th District this year by roughly 7,500 votes.

But Mr. Bush won the region by more than 36,600 votes in 2004, and Republican incumbent Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. trailed Democratic challenger Tom Perriello in results that still must be certified and may face a recount before an official winner is known.

Bob Holsworth, a political analyst at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the economy and demographic changes in the 2nd District benefited Democrats, while a surge among Democratic voters in Charlottesville and Albemarle County boosted Mr. Perriello’s chances in the 5th District.

“Nothing happened [Tuesday] to enhance the position of the Republican Party in the state of Virginia right now,” Mr. Holsworth said.

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