At the annual Alexandria Democratic Party picnic on Labor Day, about 100 local party activists grilled burgers, sipped beer out of long-neck bottles and primed for the fall elections ahead. Sitting at a picnic table, Susan Kellom, the local party
chair, swears that Northern Virginia has gone deep, deep purple.
Were seeing a lot more former Republicans voting for our candidates, no question, Kellom said. But are they coming to our picnics and our rallies and signing up? Not yet. Republicans are casting ballots for our candidates in the privacy of the election booth.
Mollie Abraham, 82, a retired restaurateur from Alexandria, said laws cant get passed because Republicans are anti-this and anti-that. I dont know how to improve it except through voting and participating in the process. Does that make me purple? I guess.
Col. Ethel Underwood, 81, a retired Air Force officer who lives in Alexandria, said shes not adverse to Republicans, but that Virginia Democrats appeal to her by blurring the line on issues traditionally owned by Republicans.
Mark Warner and Tim Kaine defied Democratic dogma by supporting gun rights, she said. Other Democratic candidates are winning the Northern Virginia suburbs with this formula.
The terms red and blue entered mainstream political parlance after the 2000 presidential election. A blue state was designated as any state leaning toward the Democratic ticket, while a red state swayed Republican. It was expanded to differentiate between states being either liberal or conservative.
Some political analysts, like Prof. Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia, say the labels over-simplify the ongoing demographic and cultural changes of a complex and politically divided state like Virginia, and started using a new term, the purple state.
Virginia has moved across the spectrum from solid red in the 1970s to a purplish-red state currently, Sabato said. With each passing year and increasing growth in Northern Virginia, it turns a little less red and a little more purple.
If recent elections help tell the story of Northern Virginia voters being different from the rest of the states voters, they also point to a fault line that separates those voters from the rest of the South.
Some historians say this demarcation point represents a deep divide of lifestyles, what they sometimes call the grits line, a political boundary that divides parts of the state where grits are almost always served with breakfast, from others where theyre not.
There are long-term trends happening here, no doubt, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) of Vienna. People are moving here from the inner city, giving it a more cosmopolitan flair. These are educated, high-end folks. But if I were the Democrats, I wouldnt be so gleeful. They shouldnt be getting out the blue paint just yet. This stuff moves back and forth.
Former Republican Jim Webbs underdog Democratic triumph over the popular incumbent Sen. George Allen (R) last November, Democratic centrist Tim Kaines decisive defeat of Republican former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore for governor in 2005 Democrats are winning state and local contests with purple platforms.
Many of these platforms reflect the continuing legacy of former Gov. Mark Warner (D), a balance-the-books progressive who announced his Senate candidacy on Sept. 13.
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) of Alexandria, whom Virginia voters sent to the U.S. Senate for six terms but who will retire in 2009, said he owes at least part of his success in Virginia politics to having his share of maverick moments. These include helping to block conservative Judge Robert Borks nomination to the Supreme Court and refusing to endorse party line, ultra-conservative candidates like Oliver North and Mark Early.
For his part, Mark Warner, also of Alexandria, who lost his first Senate candidacy to John Warner in 1996 by 5 percent, is positioning his candidacy squarely in the middle of the political spectrum neither red or blue.
Im proud to be a Democrat, but Im more proud to be an American and a Virginian first, Warner said. If I get this job, Im going to be an independent voice. Whoever the next presidents going to be, Democrat or Republican, theres going to be a window starting in January of 09 to try and make some big changes.
NOVA by the numbers
Northern Virginia is the wealthiest and most diverse region of the state, and one of the wealthiest and most diverse regions of the country, according to 2006 Census Bureau statistics. With 2.4 million people, the regions large mix of ethnic residents Hispanics (11 percent), African-Americans (11 percent) and Asian Americans (9 percent) is increasingly favoring blue candidates in its voting patterns.
In three out of four of recent elections, the wide margins tallied in Northern Virginia have swept the Democratic candidate into office statewide. Fairfax County went for John Kerry for president in 2004, the first time the county went for a Democratic candidate since 1964. The area also went for Democrats Webb in 2006, Kaine in 2005 and Mark Warner in 2001.
In last years election, while extremely slim statewide, Webb defeated Allen handily in Northern Virginia, by a margin of 58 percent to 41 percent in Northern Virginia, while Webb ran behind Allen, 46 percent to 53 percent in the rest of the state.
In 2006, Webb carried Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties, as well as Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church.