On State's Election Map, Some Areas Are Purple Question Marks

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008

RICHMOND With Virginia shaping up as a battleground in the presidential contest between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), a few counties and cities will be key in deciding whether the state goes blue this year for the first time since 1964.

Just as the national map can be sliced into blue, red and purple states, so, too, can Virginia's 134 counties and cities.

In Northern Virginia, political analysts say, Obama will probably win in Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties, given recent voting patterns. Democrats also usually rack up big wins in Richmond, Norfolk and Charlottesville. McCain will probably have a strong advantage in rural counties in western and southern Virginia.

What follows is a list of 10 Virginia locations that could be up for grabs.

· Loudoun County: Until early this decade, Loudoun was solidly Republican because of its mix of conservative, rural residents and people who were fleeing the inner suburbs. But the county's rapid growth -- its population has risen by nearly 50 percent since 2000 -- is changing its politics.

In the 2005 governor's race, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine surprised many by convincingly winning the county over Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, a former attorney general. A year later, Sen. James Webb (D) won Loudoun over former GOP senator George Allen. Democratic gains in the county were reinforced last year, when Democrats secured a majority on the Board of Supervisors.

Many parts of Loudoun are still relatively conservative, and Democratic presidential candidates have not had much luck there. President Bush won Loudoun with 56 percent of the vote in 2000 and 2004, although the number of people casting ballots in the county increased by more than 25 percent between the elections.

But Loudoun voters are among the wealthiest, most educated in the nation, making them one of Obama's prime targets in the fall, because he did well with those groups during the primaries. Minorities who tend to vote Democratic could also give him a boost in Loudoun, where 11 percent of residents are foreign born.

· Prince William County: Much like Loudoun, Prince William was once solidly Republican. But it also went for Kaine and Webb, albeit narrowly. Democratic political strategists say Prince William is one of the most difficult Virginia counties to predict. Over the past year, the GOP-controlled Board of County Supervisors has enacted some of the most stringent laws aimed at illegal immigrants in the country.

Last year, county voters gave Democratic candidates cause for worry during state legislative campaigns because polls showed that Prince William was the only place in Northern Virginia where voters weren't responding to the Democratic message.

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