Virginians Giving At Record Pace to Obama, McCain

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008

RICHMOND -- Virginia's status as a battleground state in the presidential election for the first time in more than four decades has led to a dramatic increase in donations from state residents, especially among Democrats in Northern Virginia.

Virginians have donated a record $25.3 million to candidates during this two-year election cycle, more than 85 percent of that from Northern Virginia donors, according to campaign finance reports filed last month. The total is nearly double the $14.2 million given during the same period in the run-up to the 2004 election and more than four times the $6.3 million raised before the 2000 election.

The Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, received $8.1 million from Virginia donors through July 31, and the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, took in $5 million. The rest went to other candidates who ran in the party primaries.

Virginians have given far more to Democrats than to Republicans -- $15.9 million compared with $9.3 million -- in this election cycle, the first time in at least 20 years that the GOP has not led the presidential money battle in the historically conservative state.

The boost in fundraising is in line with a national trend and is partly attributable to the prolonged nomination battle between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. But in Virginia, the increase in giving to Democrats has far exceeded what has occurred in the rest of the nation. The surge in giving is firm evidence that Virginia Democrats think they can build on recent wins on the state level to capture the state's 13 electoral votes for the first time since 1964.

Donald S. Beyer Jr., a former Democratic lieutenant governor and a Northern Virginia car dealer, attributes the shift in giving to Obama, whom he calls "the most transformational leader in last 40 years." Beyer, Obama's mid-Atlantic finance chairman, and his wife, Megan Beyer, have raised more than $1.5 million for Obama. "People are very motivated," he said. "People are very, very excited."

Since before the primaries, Virginia has been the scene of unprecedented fundraising activity. Millions of dollars are being raised at swanky fundraisers at John and Jacqueline Kennedy's former home, Hickory Hill in McLean, and the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, through small donations on the Internet and by bundlers who call and e-mail friends, colleagues and prior donors.

Virginia's proximity to Washington has also contributed to the money flow, as members of Congress, former White House officials and influential lobbyists, many of whom live in Northern Virginia, have held or headlined fundraisers, including former Republican senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota.

The increase does not necessarily mean that money raised in Virginia stays in Virginia. Obama and McCain are polling close across the country, and they have mounted aggressive campaigns in other battleground states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Nonetheless, fundraisers for McCain and Obama said the state's status as "in play" has made their jobs much easier, with many donors writing checks without the usual arm-twisting and others contributing without having to be asked.

"The more Virginia is in play, the easier it becomes," said Bill Dean, chief executive of the Dulles-based engineering firm M.C. Dean, who has raised about $25,000 for McCain. "It's another pitch you can make."

Both candidates have poured money, paid staff and other resources into Virginia, where they have been airing ads for months. Obama's campaign has opened 43 offices and dispatched dozens of field operatives. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, have campaigned in the state more than a half-dozen times since Obama secured the nomination.

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