Traditionally red Virginia could swing Obama

By Jed Layton, Hinckley Institute Journalism Program

WASHINGTON8212;Although she’s a firm Democrat, Jill Sanderson has not voted in the past four presidential elections.

Sanderson has lived in the District of Columbia for the past 25 years, but for the past 20 years she felt her political opinion and vote would not be redundant in Washington8212;a Democratic stronghold since it was given electoral votes in 1961 with the 23rd Amendment.

But this year, Sanderson will be voting and has been voicing her political views for weeks. Not because she thinks the district might turn Republican this year, but to help the neighboring state of Virginia turn blue.

“Until a few weeks ago, I did not know where my voting location was,” Sanderson said. “Barack Obama’s candidacy and his possible victory in Virginia have re-energized a lot of us politically.”

Sanderson said she has gone out on multiple occasions to work in Virginian Democratic field offices8212;manning telephones, knocking on doors, making signs and mailing letters. She said Sen. Obama’s campaign offices are in a furious rush to talk to as many people as possible. Sen. John McCain’s offices are likely the same.

Virginia has recently seen an explosion in advertising, door knocking and phone calling, said Gee Smith, a war veteran from Fairfax, Va. The state’s 13 electoral votes entered into swing status early in October as Obama began to lead the state in most polls.

“Virginia’s sudden standing as a swing state surprised a lot of people, including me,” Smith said. “It has been a long time since a Democrat won here, and despite what the polls say, I still think Obama is a long shot.”

Virginia has voted Republican since 1968 and was won by President George Bush by more than 7 percentage points in both 2000 and 2004. But with only a few days remaining, polls show a reversal with Obama enjoying a lead of about 7 points.

Tory Epstan, a piano teacher from Falls Church, Va., said the difference this year has been the time Obama spent campaigning in the state. She said Obama easily won Virginia in the primaries over Sen. Hillary Clinton and has continued to heavily campaign in the state since.

“Obama saw how much support he got during the primaries and apparently decided Virginia was a state worth fighting for,” Epstan said. “He has been campaigning hard here, opening nearly 100 offices.”

According to his Web site, Obama has 75 field offices in Virginia8212;nearly three times as many as Sen. John McCain’s 21.

Obama has visited the state more than 10 times since June, and Virginia will also be the last location to hold an Obama event before Election Day. Manassas, Va., in the northern part of the state, is expected to host Obama’s final rally today.

Suzanne Gutierrez, a nursing assistant from Vienna, Va., said northern Virginia holds the key to Obama’s success. She is voting Democratic and expects many of her neighbors to do so as well. Most of Obama’s offices are located in the northern quarter of Virginia; 31 are within suburbs of Washington, D.C.

“Northern Virginia has been more heavily impacted by the financial crisis,” Gutierrez said. “There are more foreclosures in this part of the state than in many other parts of the country, except California and Florida.”

However, not all northern Virginians are enthused about the state’s newfound Democratic side.

Adelina Ostano, a paralegal from Springfield, Va., recently moved to northern Virginia from Roanoke in the south. She said southern Virginia has a different feel to it politically and better reflects the state’s political history and heritage.

“Most of the people that live in this part of northern Virginia work in D.C., they commute into D.C., some even school their kids in D.C., they go to church in D.C. and have friends in D.C.,” Ostano said. “It is no surprise to me that they vote D.C. Democrat rather than Virginian Republican.”

When asked if she thought southern Virginia was “real Virginia” because it voted Republican Ostano said, “Anyone in Virginia is a real Virginian. But there is a difference between the northern and southern parts of the state,” she said. “The south reflects the way Virginia voted in the past, the north is a newer, more liberal way of thinking that I personally do not agree with.”

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Editor’s Note8212;Jed Layton is reporting from Washington, D.C., through the Hinckley Institute Journalism Program and Shantou University.