Democrat John F. Kerry raised more than $1.75 million last night as Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) played host at a $1,000-per-person reception in Crystal City attended by developers, business executives and local Democratic politicians.
Making his third appearance in the state since emerging as his party's presumptive nominee for president, the senator from Massachusetts told the crowd of several hundred that he and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), will oust President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
"This is the most important election of our lifetimes. It's all at stake," Kerry told the crowd, which began chanting his name. Alluding to Cheney's recent use of an expletive, Kerry said, "On Nov. 2, I and John Edwards intend to really give him something to swear about."
Organizers said that they already have collected $1.75 million and that they are still counting. They said the reception surpassed a Pamela Harriman fundraiser for Bill Clinton in Northern Virginia. Warner called the event at the Crystal City Hilton the largest Democratic fundraiser in the state's history.
For the minimum entry price of $1,000, partygoers were provided with hors d'oeuvres and mixed drinks. Top-dollar donors were treated to a private reception with Kerry and Warner, who later emerged to shake hands in the larger crowd.
"This gives evidence of how energized the base is," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, who attended the event. "There are people I haven't seen at Democratic political events in eons."
Warner, briefly mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Kerry, has been working to support the Democratic ticket, his aides said.
Plans for yesterday's fundraiser were hatched around the breakfast table at Warner's Alexandria home, according to participants. Initially, the event was to take place at the Mount Vernon home of Ray and Shaista Mahmood, real estate investors and longtime Democrats. It grew too large and was moved to the hotel, planners said.
"People like what they are hearing from Senator Kerry," Ray Mahmood said. "I like what he is saying about reaching out to all of the Americans. This is a positive thing. This is what America is about."
Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, who endorsed then-presidential candidate Howard Dean at a Falls Church event almost a year ago, said he is an enthusiastic convert to the Kerry ticket .
"It's funny how things happen," said Euille, who had gathered up more than $11,000 in contributions. "Over the past several months, I've been with [Kerry] on several occasions. I'm convinced that he's the right person for the time and the issues we are faced with as a nation."
Kerry J. Donley, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said the success of the fundraising effort suggests that the Democratic ticket may succeed in winning the state's 13 electoral votes. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
"This is Northern Virginia. It's a high-dollar event. But that's also reflective of the support for Kerry and the wealth of Northern Virginia and the Democrats of Northern Virginia," Donley said. "It clearly shows that we are a state in play."
Kerry campaign officials announced this summer that they would invest about $750,000 in Virginia to run largely biographical ads on television. The campaign has opened an office in Richmond, and officials there said they are not letting up.
Democrats say Kerry can appeal to Northern Virginia's liberals, military families in the state's coastal communities and residents of economically depressed areas in the state's south. They hope that the addition of Edwards to the ticket appeals to rural voters in southwest Virginia.
Shawn Smith, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, said he does not believe Democrats have a winning message in the commonwealth and predicted that Bush will easily carry Virginia. In 2000, Bush defeated Al Gore by 8 percentage points in Virginia.
"The Kerry-Edwards ticket is more distant from the values and priorities of Virginia than any ticket in the history of the Democratic Party," Smith said. "Virginians support President Bush's leadership and share his values. We are confident he will win in November."