By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign opened its Virginia headquarters yesterday in Pentagon City, sending a signal that Republicans plan to fight hard to keep the state from turning blue this year.
Virginia hasn't supported a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, but with the election of two successive Democratic governors and, in 2006, a Democratic U.S. senator, James Webb, officials in both parties say the state's 13 electoral votes will probably be up for grabs in the November election.
"Virginia used to be a pretty predictable Republican state, but it's not anymore," said Rick Davis, McCain's national campaign manager. "But you know what? I'd rather fight in Virginia than in almost any other state to win the election for the presidency, and that is just what we may be doing."
In preparing for the fall campaign, and in a signal that McCain is taking advantage of the lingering battle for the Democratic nomination, McCain partnered with the Virginia Republican Party to open the office.
Located near McCain's national headquarters, the office will serve as the "nerve center" for his operations and for GOP efforts on behalf of Virginia's congressional candidates. Besides the potentially competitive presidential race, the GOP will be trying to hold the seats of retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Fairfax County Republican also stepping down.
About 100 GOP activists and McCain staff members celebrated the opening of the headquarters, which consists of a big open space with about a dozen phone lines. Several volunteers were staffing the phones yesterday to reach out to potential volunteers.
John H. Hager, chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, noted that presidential campaigns have traditionally opened state headquarters about Labor Day.
"We are organized months before we are usually organized, and we are united and we are energized," Hager said. "We are going to make this pay off in Virginia."
Virginia Democrats, meanwhile, still aren't certain whether Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York will be their presidential nominee this year.
Scott A. Surovell, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, said he is frustrated that McCain is getting ahead in organizing Virginia because the Democratic contest hasn't ended.
"It's definitely creating lots of problems in terms of trying to plan for the year. We got John McCain opening an office, and I don't even know who our nominee is," said Surovell, who supports Obama. "I can't buy yard signs. I can't buy bumper stickers. I can't buy signs" to hand out.
But Surovell and other Democratic leaders, who cite unprecedented enthusiasm among Democrats this year, say they are confident the party can quickly ramp up for the fall campaign once it's clear who will win the nomination.
On Sunday, about 500 people attended the Fairfax County Democratic Committee's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, double last year's turnout.
"Once there is a nominee that Democrats across the country have decided upon, you will have campaign workers and volunteers here on the ground in Virginia ready to go fan out across the state," said Danae Jones, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, which organized a conference call yesterday with Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D) and several Democratic state legislators to criticize McCain and attempt to tie him to President Bush.