When Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) walked along the streets of Manhattan at the Republican National Convention two weeks ago, she, like many other attendees, was the target of protesters' jeers. But thanks to a strong police presence — it felt like there was "a police officer for every two people," Waters said — she felt safe, and the convention itself went off without a single security glitch.
Waters was one of several politicians from Loudoun County who attended either the Republican or Democratic national conventions. While Virginia hasn't given its 13 electoral votes to a Democratic nominee in 40 years, Republicans and Democrats alike are taking nothing for granted after returning from New York City and Boston.
In 2000, Loudoun voted 56.1 percent Republican and 40.9 percent Democrat, compared to 52.5 percent Republican and 44.4 percent Democrat for the state of Virginia.
With less than seven weeks until the election, attendees for each convention expressed both confidence and caution about their respective candidates' chances.
"I THINK this is the year we win the state for the first time since Johnson in '63," said John Flannery, who attended the Democratic National Convention in July as a delegate. He's been supporting John Kerry since "he was at eight percent in the polls."
For Flannery, however, the most charged moment of the convention didn't come from a keynote speaker or Kerry himself. It was, rather, at a morning breakfast for delegates with former Georgia senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War.
Cleland, Flannery said, stressed that having a commander in chief with military experience would mean better leadership for the armed forces.
"If Kerry were elected president, having served in the forces ... he was one person you could count on as being in the band of brothers," Flannery said.
And, in a foreshadowing comment, Flannery said that Cleland predicted that Kerry's war record would come under attack, much like Cleland's did during his unsuccessful 2002 campaign.
"A lot of lies were about to be told," Flannery said. "I think that his prediction came true. It was a salient moment."
The Democratic contingency in Loudoun has been gathering steam, according to James Socas, who is running against Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) in the upcoming election. Socas, who spoke in Boston (he had a primetime slot, he said, "if you lived in Europe") says he's seen a marked change in liberal involvement in recent months.
A recent meeting of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee was "packed," Socas said. "You couldn't find a seat. It was like a rally."
Ray Pelletier, vice chairman of LCDC who also attended the convention, confirmed Socas' report.
"Every meeting, our meetings get larger and larger," Pelletier said. "People are coming out of the woodwork."
As for Kerry's chances in the Commonwealth, Pelletier had one piece of advice.
"Take out your blue crayon," he said.
WHILE A SURGE of Democratic zeal might be in the works for Loudoun, Republicans are equally optimistic.
"I think the 40-year trend of Virginia voting Republican will continue," said Randy Minchew, chair of the Loudoun County Republican Committee. Minchew saw a show of strength at the Republican National Convention that demonstrated to him that the party's got the verve to carry through and beyond Nov. 2.
"Even longtime GOP observers remarked that the quality and delivery of speeches this year was really at an all-time high," Minchew said. He cited Sen. Zell Miller's (D-GA) "wonderfully clear and fiery oratory," former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani's "heartfelt message" and even California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's "on-message, focused" speech.
For Minchew, who arrived several days early in New York to attend credentials committee meetings, the convention was a "physically exhausting" experience full of late nights out and 6 a.m. meetings.
For Minchew and other delegates, the convention was an affirmation of the party's direction above all. Despite his confidence, however, Minchew's not relying on Virginia's red heart.
"I don't believe anyone is going to sit back and take this election for granted," he said. "There is a strong Democratic presence."
Waters, who attended as an alternative delegate, agreed. "There can't be an assumption that the state will go for Bush," she said.
THEN THERE WERE THOSE who just attended the Republican National Convention by accident, from across the street, so to speak.
Bob Ohneiser, who represents Broad Run on the school board, was in his former hometown to take his two sons to Kids' Day at the US Open — a trip he'd planned before the convention was announced. While the boys will certainly remember volleying with Andre Agassi, they might also remember watching the black helicopters swooping low in the sky the night of first big arrests of protesters in Midtown.
"We were actually in it," Ohneiser said.
The ex-New Yorker guided his children away from the melee, and, he says, a few blocks later, all was calm.
"It's part of being in New York," he said.