There's Nothing So Simple About a Straight Party Vote

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008

RICHMOND When Virginia Democrats gather in Denver next week for the party's national convention, they will boast what they consider one of their strongest tickets in a generation.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who handily won Virginia's Feb. 12 Democratic primary, will be the party's first name on the general election ballot.

U.S. Senate candidate Mark R. Warner, a popular former governor who is seeking to rack up a big winning margin on Election Day, will be name on the party's second line.

And for the first time in memory, Democrats are fielding congressional candidates in all 11 districts. Those races get the third spot on the ballot.

In Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District, a proven vote-getter, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, is the Democratic nominee in the race to replace Rep. Tom Davis (R), who is retiring. Connolly's opponent is Republican Keith S. Fimian. In the 10th Congressional District, Democrat Judy M. Feder is making her second attempt to unseat Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R).

The potential strength of their ticket has many party insiders optimistic that it could be a big Democratic year in Virginia. The Virginia Democratic Party has already printed up signs that feature the names of Obama, Warner and Democratic candidates for Congress in certain districts.

For Democrats to pull off a trifecta of victories in a district such as the 11th in Fairfax and Prince William counties, which is central to Obama's hopes of winning Virginia's 13 electoral votes, large numbers of voters will have to choose a straight Democratic line.

Unfortunately for Democrats, Virginia voters have a reputation for splitting their tickets, especially in such places as Fairfax, where many embrace the notion that bipartisanship equals good government.

The question for Obama may now become: Is it possible that running alongside Warner will hurt, instead of help, his chances to carry the state?

Mike DuHaime, political director for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, said in a conference call with Virginia reporters last week that he's confident the state's voters "are going to make decisions independent of each other" when it comes to casting votes for president and members of Congress.

But given President Bush's low approval ratings and lingering dissatisfaction over the war in Iraq, this could be a year in which large numbers of voters in some Democratic-leaning states decide to send a message by voting for only Democrats.

In Virginia, however, it's hard to see how a majority of the state's voters will embrace the notion of voting for only Democrats in federal races.

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