By Melissa Quinn
Despite Alexandria’s reputation as a Democratic bastion, neither former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) nor former U.S. Sen. George Allen (R) have ignored the city as they fight to succeed Jim Webb (D) in Washington.
“Since Northern Virginia is slightly more Democratic as a whole, Kaine has an advantage there,” said Geoff Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “And Allen wants to keep those margins close.”
Allen in particular cannot afford to give up on the city or Northern Virginia, Skelley said. Energizing Northern Virginia’s voters could secure the rest of the state for either candidate.
The area is home to about a third of the commonwealth’s votes, which are crucial for both candidates, Skelley said.
“The race could be over before they count [up ballots] in other places,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, Alexandria voters have favored Kaine over Allen in recent statewide elections. In 2001, when Kaine ran for lieutenant governor, he won 67 percent of the city’s vote. His share of Alexandria’s ballots increased during his 2005 gubernatorial campaign, when he received 72 percent of votes cast. Kaine proceeded to win both elections.
By contrast, Allen has not fared as well. In his 2000 U.S. Senate race, the Republican snagged just 34 percent of Alexandrians’ votes, trailing former Gov. Charles Robb (D). Though losing Alexandria, Allen went on to win the seat.
Alexandrians cast their ballots against Allen in droves again six years later. About 70 percent of the city’s voters threw their support behind Webb, who unseat Allen.
Despite his history with Alexandria, Allen isn’t calling it quits. Like Kaine, the Republican’s made targeted stops within city limits all along the road to the November election.
Candidates focus on veterans, women
Their paths have crossed in Alexandria throughout the race. Both reached out to local veterans at the city’s American Legion post — Allen on June 25 and Kaine on July 9 — at the group’s behest. Organizers invited the candidates to discuss veterans’ issues, particularly unemployment, which has become a hot-button topic this election cycle.
Though the jobless rate for veterans fell to 9.7 percent in September, the amount of former servicemen and women looking for work remains above the national average. During their stops in Alexandria — home to 12,125 veterans in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — both vowed to connect those who served with better jobs and industries where their skills are needed.
While Kaine’s campaign has made much of the abortion legislation passed during the last General Assembly session, Allen refuses to give up on women voters, in Alexandria or elsewhere. Instead, he’s reached out with one of his most invaluable assets — his wife.
Susan Allen, who campaigned in Alexandria as far back as an October 2011 “politics on the porch” meeting, returned to the city in February. She spoke to the Commonwealth Republican Women’s Club, outlining her husband’s platform before a small audience in Old Town.
The campaign most recently deployed Susan to the city for a September 14 meet-and- greet with women small business owners at the King Street Blues Restaurant. There she discussed the burden of government regulation with prospective voters.
Allen also has sought to reach female voters by campaigning on economics, according to NPR, arguing his plans for job growth will lift all boats, particularly women hurt by the turbulent recovery.
But Kaine hasn’t made the going easy for his opponent. Like Allen, he targeted women small business owners during a June 8 meeting at Le Pain Quotidien. A few months earlier he talked to local military wives and women veterans at Tempo restaurant.
‘All politics is local’
Despite Allen’s push for women voters, Kaine’s efforts have proven more successful. A recent PPP poll has Kaine leading 53 percent to 41 percent among women voters.
And Kaine’s overall lead widened to 51-44 statewide Monday after months of polling consistently measured the rivals as neck-in-neck. As recently as three weeks ago, Allen trailed by just a single digit behind Kaine, 47-46.
While both candidates spent a significant amount of time in Alexandria, Skelley believes Allen may end up spending more of his time in regions where he enjoys broader support. Because Northern Virginia typically leans left, there may not be as many Republican voters to energize in the area, he said.
Still, Skelley believes the campaigns’ mirroring strategies of engaging small groups of targeted voters in Alexandria makes perfect sense. It all goes back to the phrase coined by former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill.
“I think — they say [all] politics is local — I think it’s just easier to connect with people about things that are affecting them, just speaking generally to them,” Skelley said.