For months, Loudoun County has been counted among the nation’s most hotly contested battlegrounds in the presidential election. As Nov. 6 draws closer, political tension in Leesburg has continued to mount: Campaign yard signs have been stolen, vandalized and – most recently – set on fire.
About 2 a.m. Monday, Leesburg residents Jack and Libby Stevens awoke to the sound of their dogs barking, and quickly saw that their large 4-by-8-foot sign supporting Republican candidate Mitt Romney was ablaze in the front yard.
“What we saw was reminiscent of a [Ku Klux Klan] cross burning,” Stevens said in an e-mail. “And that may well have been the effect the perpetrators wished to achieve.”
Stevens promptly contacted the Leesburg police, who made a report, he said.
The couple had previously reported the theft of smaller “Romney for President” signs that had been cut off a fence on their property several weeks ago, Stevens said.
“Theft and defacing of political signs is wrong and annoying,” he said. “But lighting a front yard sign on fire is much more serious.”
Stevens said he would “feel just as strongly about this kind of assault had the sign belonged to one of my neighbors,” many of whom display signs supporting President Obama.
Loudoun Supervisor Kenneth D. Reid (R-Leesburg) said in an e-mail that the incident was unprecedented in his experience.
“In my 10 years of being involved in politics in this country, I have never heard of a lawn sign – political or non-political – being burned to the ground,” he said.
Election cycles are typically heated in Loudoun, and there are often reports of stolen signs, Reid said.
“But burning a sign that is legally placed on private property is heinous and despicable and could have caused harm to people and property,” he said. “This is so out of character with Leesburg and Loudoun County.”
Reid also noted that “rogue volunteers” for both the Obama and Romney campaigns had put up signs in the medians of roads in Leesburg and Ashburn, which is illegal.
Stevens said he planned to replace the destroyed Romney sign as soon as possible. His front yard is marred by scorched grass, he said.
“Two large metal stakes driven into our yard are all that remains of the sign,” he said. “My wife placed the American flag atop one of them.”