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For Va. Activists, a Closing Surge

GOP, Democratic Rallies Stoke Passions on Final Weekend

By Michelle Boorstein and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 31, 2004; Page C01

Virginia's Democrats pushed their party toward John F. Kerry in February by handing him a southern victory in the presidential primaries. Now, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and his party are battling history, the polls and a state Republican Party determined to keep Kerry from defeating President Bush on Tuesday.

On Friday, Warner had predicted a "surprise" on Election Day, as he sought to provide hope to activists canvassing the state this weekend.

Yesterday, Democrats gathered in Arlington to rally supporters in their strongest region of the state.

"The sky is gray, but the state is blue!" Mike Brown, campaign manager for Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D), yelled to about 50 people who rallied in a soggy Arlington park yesterday before fanning out to neighborhoods and reminding people to vote.

Moran, who is fighting for an eighth term, said that the demographics of the state have changed and that the tens of thousands of new Virginians are "overwhelmingly Democrats. Now you see a very different state."

Republicans rallied in Springfield, where their leaders fired up a crowd of more than 200 people, telling them that Kerry, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, could never understand "the real Virginia."

GOP leaders predicted that Bush would extend the unbroken string of Republican presidential victories in Virginia that followed Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson's win in 1964.

A poll by the Mason-Dixon organization showed a 50-44 lead for Bush in Virginia. The poll, conducted Oct. 22 to 25 , has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) prompted loud cheers and laughter when he reminded the crowd of Warner's prediction. "That's not going to happen, folks," he said to loud cheers and laughs. "As we say in southwest Virginia: That dog won't hunt."

Susan Etter, 62, who has been politically active for decades, and met her husband at a Young Republicans event, was standing in the mist with her poodle, Mr. Yellow.

"I wouldn't feel secure militarily without Bush," said Etter, an Arlington resident. "Kerry went to Vietnam and then came back and changed his mind; that's the most serious thing, to me."

Republicans are counting on a Bush victory to end a string of disappointments that began with Warner's victory in 2001 and continued with several scandals that led to the ouster of the party's executive director, its chairman and the speaker of the House of Delegates.

A win Tuesday could also help unite a party deeply divided by Warner's successful push for a $1.5 billion tax increase this year.

Democrats say a Kerry victory would cement their belief that Virginia has changed fundamentally, from a reliably Republican state to one that is regularly competitive. That would energize the party going into 2005, when Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Kilgore compete to be governor.

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