- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

RICHMOND | Eddie DuRant and T.J. Hillman live on the opposite edges of Virginia, 470 miles apart.

Mr. Durant plans to vote Tuesday for Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. Mr. Hillman is for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain.

Their differences are sharp and heartfelt but rooted in remarkably similar stories about the driving issue of this historic and divisive campaign - the economy.

Both lost their jobs in the past month, and each think only his candidate can fix the failing economy that brought their families hardship.

Job losses, home foreclosures, college and retirement funds devoured by a panicky stock market and a global financial crisis have focused a Virginia electorate of more than 5 million, shows statewide polling and reporting by the Associated Press over the past week.

An AP poll, which has numbers similar to other polls, shows Mr. Obama slightly ahead, 49 percent to 42 percent, in the battle for Virginia’s critical 13 electoral votes. The poll’s margin of sampling error was 4 percentage points.

If those results are replicated Tuesday, Mr. Obama will become the first Democrat to carry Virginia since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and the 13 electoral votes he would gain would go a long way toward his election as the country’s first black president.

“Losing my job, I would certainly say that based on what I’ve heard and what I’ve read, Obama seems to have his economic plan in place,” said Mr. DuRant, 42, of Virginia Beach. He received a month’s pay as severance when a small environmental-engineering firm laid him off Sept. 29, just as global markets began to fail.

His wife, MaryAnn, still has her job as a civil engineer doing work for the military. He thinks they can get by for another six months.

Mr. DuRant sees in Mr. McCain an extension of President Bush’s economic polices.

Mr. Hillman, 38, was just laid off from his job selling mobile homes, a casualty of the home mortgage and real estate-industry meltdown. He lives in Wise County with his wife and their 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. Prospects in sales of housing or cars are bleak. He hopes his experience with financing might help him find a banking job, but some major banks also are on the ropes.

He considers Mr. McCain the best hope for restoring the country’s industrial might.

“I don’t think there’s enough manufacturing and things that are American-made in this country,” Mr. Hillman said.

The AP poll of 601 likely Virginia voters conducted Oct. 22 to 26 showed 82 percent are worried about the economy. No other concern came close.

Twenty-seven percent said they were “very worried” about their family finances, and another 37 percent were “somewhat worried.”

Mr. Obama is the primary beneficiary of that angst.

When asked whom they most trust to improve the economy, 53 percent of AP poll respondents chose Mr. Obama to 40 percent for Mr. McCain. When asked whom they most trust to reform the country’s system of health care coverage, 56 percent backed Mr. Obama to 36 percent for Mr. McCain.

Retired Air Force Col. Terry Markle, of Hampton, plan to vote a split ticket.

Col. Markle, 65, flew combat missions during two tours of duty in Vietnam. Mr. McCain was a Navy pilot who was shot down and held a prisoner of war in Hanoi for five years. That kinship that sealed Col. Markle’s vote for Mr. McCain the moment Mr. McCain declared his candidacy, he said.

Col. Markle considers himself strong Republican, but will vote in Virginia’s Senate race for former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, over former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican.

“He’s a businessman who was able to pull the state out of a fairly serious financial problem,” Col. Markle said.

Tomika Jackson, 21, of Chesterfield County, registered to vote three years ago, but will cast her first vote for Mr. Obama. Miss Jackson, who is black, said she “never thought in a million years” she would see a black nominee on the presidential ballot. But worries about paying her college bills if the economy falters further turned her vote, she said, not race.

“If the bank shuts down for my financial aid, what am I going to do then?” Miss Jackson asked. “I’m nervous, and I’m shocked our country is doing this bad.”

*AP writers Matthew Barakat, Michael Felberbaum, Sue Lindsey, Dena Potter, Zinie Chen Sampson and Steve Szkotak contributed to this report.

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