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Obama's final health-care rally to be held in Virginia

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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010

For his final rally to pass his signature health-care initiative, President Obama chose Virginia, a familiar and comfortable place that the president seems to count on for these types of moments.

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Obama kicked off his general-election campaign with two stops in the state, including one in Prince William County. He returned to Northern Virginia for his final stop, drawing thousands to a Manassas rally not far from the George Mason University arena where he'll speak to about 10,000 people on Friday. A day after those stops, he became the first Democrat in 44 years to claim the Old Dominion.

Since then, however, Virginia hasn't been quite so accommodating. Despite Obama's personal campaigning, Democrats lost the state's three top jobs last fall, getting trounced in each race by more than 15 points. Republicans having been using their perch in Richmond since then to stoke sentiment against Washington.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell delivered the Republican rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union address from the state capitol. Last week, Virginia became the first state to pass a law making a key piece of the federal health-care reform package illegal -- a measure that would not have passed without support from some Democrats. And Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) said this week that he will mount a constitutional challenge if the bill passes.

Even tried-and-true Fairfax Democrats, who helped give Obama a 21 percentage-point advantage over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 16 months ago, said they have noticed a shift in the political landscape.

Tawny Hammond, 48, a Democrat from Springfield who voted for Obama, attributed the change to an "organized opposition." On health care, Hammond said that although she feels "pretty strongly" about extending coverage for the young and unemployed, she and her like-minded friends are turned off by the political process.

"I think the health-care bill should go further than what it does, but we had to make compromises," Hammond said. "That's just a sad reality."

Still, Virginia offers Obama the same opportunities it did during his campaign -- a chance to speak directly to the skeptical and win over political independents.

"Virginia is pretty close to the political mood of the country," said state Sen. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax), who represents the district Obama will visit on Friday. "If he can speak to the folks in Virginia and make his case and sway their opinion, he can really do it in any swing state."

Obama will be making his pitch to a smaller, but more crucial, constituency: the state's Democratic congressmen, at least four of whom are facing vigorous GOP challenges in the fall, including Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who represents parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties.

Connolly has been an outspoken proponent of reform but remains on the fence about this weekend's vote as he examines the final package.

Pat S. Herrity, a Fairfax County supervisor from Springfield and one of two Republicans competing to challenge Connolly, announced Thursday he'll be protesting outside Obama's George Mason rally.

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