Democrats Court GOP Moderates in Loudoun

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Democratic activists are fanning across Loudoun County for a final push before Tuesday's election, sensing an unprecedented opportunity to make gains in traditionally Republican enclaves on the Washington area's edges.

With an unusual level of support from state party leaders and emboldened by recent victories at the polls, Democrats are knocking on doors and calling thousands of likely voters, urging them to support their candidates in local and state elections. The state party has set up a temporary office in the county for the first time, and yesterday, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) made a rare visit to Loudoun as part of a statewide blitz.

Democrats also hope to take advantage of a fractured local GOP that has further splintered as the election has neared, forging alliances with disgruntled Republicans actively campaigning against candidates from their own party.

"In all of our races, we're finding a large number of moderate Republicans who are just fed up with the party and have said, 'We'll give you guys a chance,' " said Thom Beres, chairman of the Loudoun Democratic Committee. "That doesn't mean they're always going to be Democratic, but right now they are very open to us."

Nevertheless, Republicans remain confident. Board of Supervisors member Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles) said he thinks his party will prevail next week in part because of the fundamental values of the community. "We're conservatives at heart," he said. "I would hope that the base Republicans will see through the rhetoric and realize there's no advantage to electing Democrats."

The Democrats' strategy of wooing Republican voters is being tested beyond Loudoun, in places such as Manassas and Winchester that were once considered the exclusive territory of the GOP. At each stop on their preelection tour, Kaine and other Democratic leaders are promoting their candidates as the moderate alternative to a GOP that they say has shifted too far right.

That message has resonated in Loudoun in recent state elections as voters have sided with Democrats whom they view as more willing to slow the pace of growth and confront other quality-of-life issues than Republicans, whom many consider too focused on social causes.

In 2005, voters backed Kaine and David E. Poisson (D), who defeated longtime Del. Richard H. Black (R) in the eastern part of the county. Months later, Democrat Mark R. Herring easily won a special election for the Senate seat formerly held by Republican William C. Mims.

On the county level, Democrats hope to take advantage of the perception that Republicans are in the pocket of the development industry, regularly blamed for causing much of the traffic congestion and school crowding that upsets so many residents.

Democrats are being helped in local races by moderate Republicans, who say the county's rapid suburbanization over the past decade has caused tax bills to skyrocket as residents have been forced to pay for new schools and other amenities.

Paul Siker, a self-described longtime Republican, is the executive director of the Loudoun Coalition, a political action committee that is campaigning against five of the six Republicans on the Board of Supervisors.

"It doesn't give me any joy whatsoever that I'm actually campaigning against the entity I have historically believed in, but something has to be done," Siker said. "Frankly, at this juncture, a candidate's party affiliation or lack thereof is less consequential than the way they comport themselves in office."

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