- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. | For decades Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns ignored the bedroom communities within 60 miles of the White House. A tide of new residents has changed that attitude as sharply as it’s changed Northern Virginia’s demographics.

”The battle for Virginia is going to be won in the outer suburbs of Washington and, to some extent, the outer suburbs of Hampton Roads,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, who teaches political journalism at George Mason University in Fairfax.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois will be here Saturday with his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the first time the two have campaigned together since the Democratic National Convention. Mr. Biden was a few miles up the road in Prince William County on Tuesday.

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, drew the largest crowd of their campaign earlier this month when more than 20,000 turned out in Fairfax County.

Two polls within the past week show Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain in a very tight race in Virginia, which last backed a Democrat for president in 1964.

The Old Dominion is the only battleground state the can claim a region like Northern Virginia, Mr. Farnsworth said. Six of the nation’s 100 fastest-growing counties from 2000 to last year lie within this sprawling region of leafy subdivisions, trendy malls and perpetually gridlocked highways interspersed with Civil War battlefields.

“It’s gotten a lot younger. There are a lot more D.C. types living here. Northern Virginia’s gotten a lot more Democratic-voting,” Rick Vastine, 23, a Spotsylvania resident and McCain voter, said after stepping off a commuter train in Fredericksburg.

Growth in the telecommunications and Internet industries in the late 1990s and the enormous homeland security buildup since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, flooded Northern Virginia with “come-heres,” most of them young, well-educated, professional and affluent. They’re Washington-savvy voters whose livelihoods are tied to those in power.

”The national is local in Northern Virginia,” said Mr. Farnsworth. “The old left-right voting alignments mean nothing to these voters. They don’t make snap judgments on things like Swift Boaters and gay marriage.”

That, along with a deeply unpopular Republican president, transformed the region from one that had been reflexively Republican into a swing area. Prince William and Loudoun counties had been Republican redoubts for decades, but both voted for Democrats for governor in 2005 and the Senate in 2006.

”These aren’t people who are born and bred from three generations of Virginians,” said John H. Chichester, a Republican who supports Mr. McCain for president but endorses Democratic former Gov. Mark Warner’s Senate bid.

These voters generally prefer pragmatists to partisans, said Mr. Chichester, a centrist who won more than seven state Senate terms from Stafford County while clashing with conservatives in his own party. They are discerning voters known for punishing candidates who distort the record or lie outright, he said.

Both campaigns have gone too far in TV ads rich with falsehoods, Mr. Chichester said.

“Those ads, from both of these campaigns, they are on the verge of being worthless to us. Nobody here believes them,” Mr. Chichester said. “We see through that stuff like Saran Wrap.”

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