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Focus Groups Provide Insights Into Women's Views

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"I think he's scary and he's anti-female," said Jane D. Malik, 59, of Alexandria. "I would be very concerned about what he would do to women, against women. . . . And, granted, this is 20 years old. But I just can't imagine that everything in his heart has changed."

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Malik acknowledged that she knew very little about Deeds. Her view was echoed by many of the women in the groups, who seemed to have little familiarity with the Bath County senator and said information about him was scant.

"I hadn't heard of him. I saw the signs kind of pop up, and I'm like, 'Uh, who is this person?' " said Malissa Brennan, 24, a Fairfax resident who said she typically votes Democratic. She said she recently heard that Deeds is focused on education issues. "Education is a big word for me, so sometimes I'll pay attention to whoever says it's their primary focus."

Deb Wiker, 46, of Fairfax, who said she is undecided in the race, had this to say about Deeds: "He's a guy with no plan, but he has a good heart. He's a good ol' boy."

Some who favored McDonnell said it was because his conservative views largely mirrored their own. "McDonnell may be a tad more extreme than I would like. At least I know I'm kind of close to that," said Margaret Carmichael, 44, a stay-at-home mother from Clifton who works part time at her child's school.

THE ISSUES

Many in both groups described traffic as their top concern -- perhaps reinforced by the rush-hour traffic they battled to get to the Wednesday evening focus group meetings in Fairfax. But several expressed a deep cynicism about their political leaders' ability and will to solve the region's congestion issues. Some were worried that Deeds, as a native of western Virginia, would not be sympathetic enough to the transit needs of Northern Virginia.

"I don't know that people who haven't lived in Northern Virginia and been in the day-to-day rush-hour traffic can understand it," Beemer said. "Some people I know from southwestern Virginia that have come up here and they get in the rush-hour traffic, they think it's an accident. Because that's the way it is at home if there's an accident. But they don't know that it's our day-to-day operation."

Ardenia Lewis, 43, of Dale City described small success offset by bigger setbacks. She said that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project has eased congestion but that the Springfield interchange has not and that the current Capital Beltway construction is making matters worse.

Other frequently cited issues were education and taxes. Some complained that budget cuts were having a negative impact on schools and that real estate tax bills were rising despite a drop in assessments. More associated Deeds with education and McDonnell with lower taxes than the other way around.

The economy and jobs are voters' top concerns in the election, according to the new poll, but few in the focus groups expressed a strong view on which candidate could better lead the state out of its economic doldrums. Lisa Schumann, 36, of Bristow said, "I think that I need more information to say." She also wondered how much a governor could do to make a difference.

-- Jennifer Agiesta and Sandhya Somashekhar


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