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Votes

Loudoun Changing Colors?

There are few polling places in Fairfax County that are considered more Republican than the Vale Precinct, located at the Church of the Good Shepherd along Hunter Mill Road in Vienna.

Most of the polling place's voters have backed Republican candidates since 1994, when Democrat Chuck Robb ran against Oliver North for the U.S. Senate.

Four years ago, Vale was one of the single Fairfax County polling places to choose Republican Mark Earley over Gov. Mark Warner. Last fall, its citizens supported President George W. Bush over U.S. Sen. John Kerry by a margin of 56 percent.

But on Nov. 8 Ñ for the first time in 11 years Ñ the Vale Precinct voted for a major Democratic candidate, backing Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine over Republican Jerry Kilgore.

The Vale Precinct was far from alone in supporting the Democratic candidate in last week's election.

Never in recent memory has Northern Virginia gone so blue. The traditional Republican strongholds of Prince William and Loudoun counties voted for Kaine, as did the inner suburbs of Alexandria, Arlington and Falls Church.

In Fairfax County, only nine polling places favored Kilgore, while Kaine won 219. In Loudoun County, Kilgore only won 11 precincts, while Kaine was the winner at 44.

Kaine carried Fairfax County with 60 percent of the vote Ñ beating out his Republican opponent by more than 60,000 votes, according to unofficial returns.

"Fairfax has never before given a Democrat 60 percent of the vote," said Fairfax County Chairman Gerry Connolly (D). "You can no longer say it's a fluke when a Democrat wins Fairfax County. A pattern is emerging here."

Kaine's strong showing in Northern Virginia on Tuesday aided a wave of Democratic victories in House of Delegates races. Democrats picked up two Republican seats in Fairfax County, as well as one in Loudoun County.

In Fairfax, the Democrats flipped open seats formerly held by Del. Gary Reese (R-67) and Del. Jim Dillard (R-41). In Loudoun, Democrat David Poisson unseated Del. Dick Black (R-32), one of the General Assembly's most ardent anti-abortion legislators.

"We felt we had a successful moderate message all along," said Del. Brian Moran (D-46), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "The individual voter is looking for positive centrist issues, so that's what we tried to emphasize."

The Democrats ran on "bread and butter" issues like increasing state funding for education and transportation. Kilgore focused on social issues like the death penalty and illegal immigration, Moran said.

"The Republican's message Ñ God, guns and gays Ñ just isn't going to work in Northern Virginia," he said.

Republicans do not believe that the outer suburbs are necessarily shifting to the left. In Loudoun, Kilgore lost by only 3,500 votes, and in Prince William, he lost by only 1,200 votes.

"We don't see last Tuesday's election as entirely problematic," said Randy Minchew, chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee. "We still believe Loudoun is a Republican jurisdiction."

REPUBLICANS WERE STYMIED by President Bush's slumping approval ratings in Virginia, which are hovering around 30 percent, said Del. Dave Albo (R-42), who won a tight re-election bid in southern Fairfax County.

"The fact of the matter is that George Bush is not very popular right now," Albo said, suggesting that Republican candidates in Northern Virginia are affected by what voters think of Bush and other national GOP leaders.

Albo, who has served in the House since 1994, said Kilgore did a poor job of convincing Northern Virginia to vote for him, relying on sensational attack ads that appear to have backfired.

"I hate being an armchair quarterback, but Kilgore should have been running ads about the roads he's going to built, not about the death penalty," Albo said.

Kaine, on the other hand, ran on the promise that he would keep Virginia on the course set by his popular predecessor, who managed to raise the state's sales tax in 2004 by $1.34 billion to increase education and public safety spending.

"Anybody who's got their head screwed on straight will tell you that, in Northern Virginia, you've got to talk about what the everyday guy wants to see Ñ building roads, building schools and fighting gangs," Albo said.

KILGORE'S FATAL BLUNDER was to ignore the desires of Northern Virginia, instead making his signature issues an appeal to conservative rural voters, said Mark Rozell, a George Mason University public policy professor.

"The Republican campaign mistakenly focused on its rural base and didn't reach out to swing voters," he said.

In Northern Virginia, concerns about out-of-control development appears to have spurred some voters to back Kaine, Rozell said.

Part of Kaine's platform was to offer local governments the authority to tie land use and transportation planning Ñ ensuring localities have sufficient infrastructure in place to handle new growth. Such measures would have to be approved by the General Assembly.

Rozell also said many Northern Virginia voters were motivated to vote against Kilgore because they believed he was responsible for more negative campaigning, including a television ad that asserted Kaine would not have sought the death penalty for Adolph Hitler.

Many of the Democrats who won contested elections Tuesday Ñ including Kaine, Del. Steve Shannon (D-35) and David Bulova (D-37), Chuck Caputo (D-67), David Poisson (D-32) and David Marsden (D-41) Ñ ran as moderates.

Rozell said that could be considered "cause to worry" for the remaining conservative politicians in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, including those on the Loudoun Board of Supervisors.

Moran said he hopes the Democratic victories will encourage the Republican-controlled House to eschew conservative social legislation Ñ like banning gay marriage and curbing abortion rights Ñ in favor of tackling issues like Northern Virignia's transportation problems.

"Tuesday's election sends a clear message to Republicans in the House Ñ they need to be moderate," he said. "I hope they heard that message because that'll be good for all of us."

U.S. REP. TOM DAVIS (R-11) said the Virginia GOP needs to consider running future candidates who are from Northern Virginia, or at least do a better job of speaking to the region's important issues of coping with gridlock and bringing more education dollars to the region from Richmond.

"This should be a wake-up call for the down-staters," he said.

By focusing on divisive social issues rather than transportation and education, Kilgore caused moderate Republicans to cross over, as well swing independents to Kaine, Davis said.

"People up here aren't right or left Ñ they're in the middle," said Davis, who is among the Fairfax County residents who votes at the Vale Precinct in Vienna.