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N. Virginia's Split Identities Will Test Candidates

Jerry Kilgore team members Alma Jackson of Fairfax, left, and Craig Monroe of Centreville go door-to-door in Centreville. Kilgore has more staff in Northern Virginia than anywhere outside his Richmond headquarters.
Jerry Kilgore team members Alma Jackson of Fairfax, left, and Craig Monroe of Centreville go door-to-door in Centreville. Kilgore has more staff in Northern Virginia than anywhere outside his Richmond headquarters. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Robert Barnes and D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 9, 2005

By most measures, Northern Virginia is the colossus of the commonwealth, supplying about a third of the state's voters, the engine of its economic growth, the center of its wealth. Lop it off at the Rappahannock River and the State of Northern Virginia would be the richest in the union.

Politicians and demographers looking for clues about how to deliver the area in next month's statewide elections see it as a region with an emerging common identity. But they also see it as a collection of sometimes conflicting territories: the republics of Arlington and Alexandria, the commonwealths of Loudoun and Prince William, the giant United Neighborhoods of Fairfax.

Those differences will be as important to the candidates as the similarities.

Like most everything in Northern Virginia, the political demarcation is paved with asphalt. Interstate 95 is Democratic blue. Interstate 66 is Republican red. And the Capital Beltway is the great divide: Democrats live inside, close to bus routes and Metro stops, and Republicans pack the HOV lanes to get to and from their single-family homes beyond.

"To the rest of the state, Northern Virginia is a single-cell amoeba," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria). "Those of us in Northern Virginia see its individual parts. It's far more diverse than the rest of the commonwealth thinks of us."

Its impact on the Nov. 8 election is indisputable. "It's incredibly important to us in the campaign," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine, the state's lieutenant governor. "We view it as absolutely critical that we do well." His opponent, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, has more staff in Northern Virginia than anywhere outside the campaign's Richmond headquarters.

But their messages and methods of reaching the region's voters illustrate the area's differences.

"There's no silver bullet to getting a Northern Virginia vote. They've proven to be so diverse and independent," said Jim Dornan, a GOP consultant who was chief of staff to then-Lt. Gov. John H. Hager. "You've got to walk through a lot of land mines. The key is going to be to get your base [of supporters] to come out in full force rather than to appeal to everybody on every issue."

In the outer suburbs, where Republicans dominate legislative and local offices and President Bush won a majority of votes last year, a recent Washington Post telephone poll showed transportation tied with schools as the most important issue, and Kilgore has made road-building the centerpiece of his television appeal. In campaign literature, he says he is "committed" to widening I-66 inside the Beltway, a popular position in the exurbs but anathema to heavily Democratic Arlingtonians.

In the inner suburbs, where Democrats rule and where Sen. John F. Kerry last year became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Fairfax County in 40 years, education is the top issue. In his ads, Kaine accuses Kilgore of insufficient support for schools and touts a plan for expanding early childhood education.

Still, with an influential and established business community, burgeoning cultural and arts institutions, new college campuses and Tysons Corner eager to serve as "downtown," there is a growing sense of identity among the region's more than 2 million residents.

"I think even more so than ever in the past," said Sean T. Connaughton, the Republican chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. "And I think Northern Virginia is starting to have its own identity that is separate from Washington."

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