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SWITCHING SIDES

In Virginia, a Longtime Republican Votes for Change

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Barack Obama states his case for the democratic nomination at the Jefferson Jackson dinner Saturday night in Richmond, Va. Video by APEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com

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By Krissah Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2008

GLEN ALLEN, Va. -- Laura Barchi DeBusk threw on her boots and sunglasses as the school bus rounded the corner. Clutching her preschooler's hand, she crossed the street along with half a dozen other stay-at-home moms. DeBusk and her neighbors -- Republicans all -- rarely discuss politics, but days before a primary election here she decided to send a little shock through her subdivision.

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"You'll be surprised to know I'm voting for Barack Obama," DeBusk, 37, announced as the school bus pulled up.

"Really?" her friend Sherry Tierney, 36, said as their first-graders hopped off the bus. "Why?"

"I feel like we need to get out of the Bush black-and-white way of thinking," DeBusk said. "I feel like McCain would also say, 'It's my way or the highway.' . . . Obama's message of inclusion and working together is what we need."

"But he's so young," Tierney replied. "I like McCain."

"He's soooo old," DeBusk fired back. "What will he be, 80, when he finishes his term?"

In the well-to-do western suburbs of Richmond, most mothers in the Twin Hickory subdivision agreed with Tierney. The Republican front-runner's military service, his moderate streak and his history of working with Democrats were attractive to the mothers. In a state where voters are allowed to participate in either primary, they planned to vote Republican on Tuesday.

DeBusk likes a lot about Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), too, but it's not enough to overcome her disenchantment with a Republican Party she thinks is adrift and uninspired, both in Virginia and nationally. She voted for President Bush twice and regrets where he has taken the country and what she thinks he has done to the good name of the United States of America. She's tired of what she sees as a lackluster string of Republicans that have run and, lately, lost in a Virginia that seems more liberal by the day. And she watched with particular dismay as Republican Sen. George Allen's 2006 reelection campaign went up in flames after he uttered a remark perceived by many as racist.

"You get so disappointed, like, these are the people we are putting up?" DeBusk said. "Like, are you kidding me? This is who we have to choose from?"

The Laura DeBusks of the country are just the kind of voters that Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) has courted -- sick of what they've been offered, tired of where things are headed and willing to try something, anything, new. Exit polls from elections across the country last week showed that Obama won the majority of independent voters. DeBusk, like many voters, worries about Obama's lack of experience, and she disagrees with him on a handful of issues, particularly his tax policies. But her desire for change is so great, she's willing to take the chance.

"Even if he doesn't do everything the way I'd like, I really feel like he can move us forward," she said.

DeBusk was raised in a conservative military family where discipline, love of country and voting Republican were shared values. She respects McCain's military service, but she'll consider him only if Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democratic nominee. She thinks Clinton is smart and capable but fears that Republicans so dislike the New York senator that the country will be polarized.


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