Kerry Visit Rallies Dems

Kerry Visit Rallies Dems

Democratic faithful say Virginia could go their way this year.

Martina Leinz and Belle Edmonson consider themselves somewhat of a demographic anomaly. Military wives who live in Burke, they are actively supporting the presidential campaign of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D). They worked a booth at the Celebrate Fairfax festival last month and plan to go door-knocking in their neighborhood soon.

What they found, they said, is that there’s more support for Kerry in Virginia than is at first apparent.

“There are a lot of Kerry supporters out there,” said Leinz.

“They’re afraid to show it because they’re afraid of retribution,” noted Edmonson.

“When we worked at Celebrate Fairfax it was astounding the number of people who told us they were lifelong Republicans and they were voting for Kerry,” said Leinz.

LEINZ AND EDMONSON were two of about 850 fired-up supporters who contributed at least $1,000 for the chance to see the Democratic candidate address a fundraiser at the Crystal City Hilton in Arlington on Friday evening. The event raised $1.75 million, breaking the record for the most lucrative political fundraiser in Virginia. The message was clear: after voting for the Republican candidate in the presidential elections for the past 40 years, Virginia is up for grabs this year.

“This is the night that we told the rest of the country that Virginia is and will be a blue state on Nov. 2,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8).

George W. Bush carried the state in 2000 with 52 percent of the vote.

Kerry told the crowd that he and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), were motivated by “a sense of possibility about our country.”

“We are convinced that a new team for a new America can make America stronger in the world and restore the influence and respect of American in the world.”

Kerry also praised Gov. Mark Warner (D) for his efforts to get the General Assembly to agree on a budget plan this year. “That’s leadership and he deserves our respect and he deserves our gratitude,” he said.

IT REMAINS to be seen how energetically Kerry and Edwards will campaign in Virginia before the Nov. 2 election. If the state is in play, as many Democrats suggest, voters can expect multiple visits by both Kerry and Bush in the coming months. On Friday, Susan Swecker, Kerry’s campaign manager for Virginia, urged the crowd to mobilize the grassroots to wrestle the state away from the President.

“Virginia is in play and we need you all’s help,” she said. “We’ve got to cooperate and work all together. We’re in this as a team.”

While local party members said they were excited that the campaign was looking at possibly opening an office in Merrifield, they said they expected most of the campaign’s resources to go into proven swing states such as Ohio or Pennsylvania.

“If [Virginia]’s to be in play it’s up to the local democratic committees to make it in play,” said Susan Kellom, chairman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. “The national campaign probably doesn’t consider us in play.”

“The resources to do this are going to have to come from Virginians,” she added, noting however that the national campaign did assign a paid staff member to run field operations in Virginia. “We think we can do it.”

In his speech, Kerry also urged his supporters to action.

“I want you to go out and I want you to talk to your friends,” he said. “This is the most important election of our lifetime. It’s all at stake.”

“What we’re going to do is crisscross this nation and talk the truth to the American people,” he added. “What does it mean when you turn around from the White House and there are people wrapped in blankets asleep on the lawn?”

To some longtime Democratic activists, the message seems to be resonating in the Commonwealth.

“I sense a lot of energy in Virginia that we have not had before in other years,” said state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31). “People sense the possibilities.”