THE VIRGINIA DIVIDE
So Close, Yet So Far Apart
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Alexandria still has its Jefferson Davis Highway and Springfield its Robert E. Lee High School, but if last week's election showed anything, it's that Northern Virginia is not only different than the rest of the state, it is a different state. And it's no longer in the South.
That line now starts at the Rappahannock River, where things change -- the accents, the attitudes, the pace and a comfort with the way things are. It's what some historians call the new "grits line." To them, it's no surprise that the state's northernmost welcome center on Interstate 95 is in Fredericksburg.
State politics in Richmond is still controlled by leaders south of the Rappahannock. But as Northern Virginia continues to grow, both in population and influence, the profound difference between the two Virginias is likely to become not just an uneasy alliance but a full-blown identity crisis.
Already, the fault line runs deep.
Last Tuesday, Republican George Allen won by wide margins in 92 of the state's 134 localities but lost the race because Democrat James Webb swept the densely populated Washington suburbs. At the same time, Northern Virginians voted against the amendment to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, but the measure passed largely because people south of the Rappahannock voted overwhelmingly for it.
At Allen's concession speech, two supporters turned to each other in disgust. "That's it," said one. "I'm moving to South Carolina."
In interviews with dozens of Virginians on both sides of the divide, each saw the other part of the state almost as a foreign country, with an alien culture. "How come they have the bad accents and we talk fine?" asked Casey Childress, a waitress at the Pigs R Us Bar-B-Que in Collinsville, a small town near Martinsville and the North Carolina border.
That's something Dick Reed can't answer. Although Reed, an economist for the federal government has lived in Fairfax County for 40 years, he has never ventured across the border of Northern Virginia. Except once or twice to see Luray Caverns.
And neither side really "gets" the other.
"We don't have a lot of tolerance for people up there. But I think we've got more tolerance of y'all than y'all do of us," said Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a Roanoke-based Democratic consultant who helped Mark R. Warner, Timothy M. Kaine and now Webb get what he calls "the Bubba vote." "There's a certain air of intellectual superiority up there that comes with stereotyping us as being hillbillies."
Frank Dodson, 67, a retired plumber from Page County in the bucolic Shenandoah Valley, was in Goochland Courthouse last week tending to some business. He has lived all his life in what he and Allen call the "real world of Virginia," a place he fears is slipping away because of the influence of the "newcomers" up north.
"They came for contracting or D.C. jobs," he said. "Many of us down here stayed farming, or stayed with our daddy's business, and we drink the same water as we always have."