Jane Sarver had never voted in a party primary election before.
But on Tuesday, the Leesburg resident was one of fewer than 5,000 people who came out during a swelteringly hot day on the western fringe of the Washington suburbs to vote in her Virginia House district's Republican primary.
Why? It wasn't the local campaign season's most talked about issue -- her delegate's decision to support a plan that increased taxes. Sarver supported Del. Joe T. May for a reason that was literally closer to home: her own back yard.
She has been working closely with May since Dominion Virginia Power announced last year that the company might install a high-voltage power line that would cross the driveway of her 28-acre farm. May, an engineer, has been lobbying to put the power line underground.
Although issues of taxation and spending have dominated Virginia politics since the 2004 legislative session, they were not the only ones that resonated with voters in the statewide primaries Tuesday.
"I'm sure several hundred people came out as a result of the power line issue," Sarver said of the voters in her district, which covers parts of Loudoun and Clarke counties. "People tend to vote on issues that are near and dear to their hearts, and this line stretches across 16 miles of countryside."
Anti-tax groups targeted Republicans who, like May, had bucked party leaders in the House by voting to raise taxes. Six faced primaries Tuesday, but only one, Del. Gary A. Reese, was defeated. Reese, whose district includes western Fairfax County and a slice of eastern Loudoun, lost to youth pastor Chris S. Craddock.
Party centrists and anti-tax organizers have been working hard to spin a statewide message out of the results. But in races where turnout barely broke 5 percent, it might just be true that all politics are local.
Christopher G. Oprison, a lawyer from Leesburg, challenged May on his tax vote. He said he also tried to argue that he, too, could effectively fight Dominion's power line between Leesburg and Purcellville. With tiny turnout, however, May's history with the issue made at least some difference, he said.
"You're not talking about needing 1,000 votes. You're talking about 450 to 500 votes swaying the election," Oprison said. He got 1,999 votes to May's 2,974.
But all districts and all candidates are not created equal, either. Both May, 68, and Reese, 60, are seasoned politicians who faced much younger opponents who ran aggressive campaigns.
Craddock, 26, grew up in Fairfax and coached soccer in the neighborhood. Oprison, 34, had served for years as a military lawyer and moved to Leesburg two years ago. He said he was constantly fighting the impression that he had not been in the area long enough to challenge a six-term incumbent who had lived in Loudoun for more than two decades.
The newcomer label might well have stuck in a district that includes a rural swath of Clarke and a less-developed area of Loudoun near West Virginia, as well as more rapidly suburbanizing Leesburg and Purcellville.
"An area with population stability is more likely, I think, to reward a longtime resident," said Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun), a friend of May's whose home in Sterling is well to the east of the district. "Those who have lived here a long time know Joe May well, and they are quite comfortable with his representation."
Oprison picked up some of his strongest support from the areas of large new housing developments on the eastern edge of Leesburg, places that look a lot more like western Fairfax than Berryville, Clarke's county seat.
In small districts where candidates aim to meet as many voters as possible, personality can never be discounted, either.
Quiet, mild-mannered and unfailingly amiable, May inspired loyalty even from those who disagreed with him on issues, Oprison said. He is so well-liked that Loudoun's Democratic committee chairman Thom Beres said there was little interest in challenging him for the Nov. 8 general election. No Democrat filed to get on the ballot.
"He is a good listener," Sarver said. "I look at Joe and I see my neighbor."