Virginia is now rightly seen as the ultimate purple state. Along with Ohio, no state more accurately mirrored the national vote than the commonwealth, where President Obama’s portion of the vote — 50.8 percent — virtually matched his tally nationwide.
But on closer inspection, Virginia isn’t really purple. It’s a Southern red state stapled to the Northern Virginia suburbs, which vote like California, New York, Massachusetts — and Maryland.
The suburbs accounted for a third of the record 3.7 million votes cast in the state. And of that subtotal, Obama won 60 percent, thrashing Mitt Romney by more than 200,000 votes. Take Northern Virginia out of the equation, and Virginia, where the president‘s overall victory margin was a little over 100,000 votes, is solidly Republican.
Obama even edged Romney in Loudoun County, which has an almost all-Republican cast of elected representatives to local bodies, the state legislature and Congress. And he cleaned up in the other heavily populated parts of the region: Fairfax, Prince William and Arlington counties, along with the city of Alexandria.
Meanwhile, the president was crushed in the coal country of southwest Virginia, where Romney effectively portrayed him as an enemy of coal-fired power plants. But southwest Virginia is sparsely populated compared to the crowded precincts around the Beltway.
By and large, Northern Virginians aren’t Berkeley-style liberals. They’re government contractors, federal employees, tech workers and service industry wage earners. An extraordinary number are first- or second-generation immigrants, and many have advanced degrees. As a group, they’re much better educated and worldlier than other Virginians or the country as a whole. And they weren’t buying what Romney was selling.
I’d bet that Romney lost Northern Virginia during the GOP primaries, when his lurch to the right became clear — on immigration, especially, but also on climate change, abortion, gun control and other marquee issues. None of that would have escaped notice among Northern Virginia voters, who are generally well informed and plugged in. And much of it would have alienated them.
That goes particularly for recent immigrants, not just Latinos, who are plentiful in the Washington suburbs, but also Asians, who voted overwhelmingly (73 percent) for Obama. Northern Virginia is teeming with Asian immigrants — from India, Vietnam, South Korea and elsewhere. I can’t imagine many of them swooned at Romney’s incessant China bashing, let alone his talk of self-deportation for the undocumented.
Before Obama captured Virginia in 2008, the state hadn’t voted for a Democrat in presidential elections in 44 years. But until Republican candidates start running as credible centrists who can appeal to Northern Virginia, the state and its 13 electoral votes may be lost to the GOP indefinitely.