In this election season, gubernatorial candidates are assiduously courting votes in booming areas such as western Prince William County for a simple reason: People who live there tend to vote, and in slightly higher numbers than those in the older, eastern part of the county.
But in other ways -- namely, political contributions and political volunteering -- the western end of the county still lags far behind its more established neighbor to the east of Route 28.
In the last presidential election, for instance, people who live in the eastern end of the county gave a total of about $715,000, while those in the west gave $223,000, according to Federal Election Commission records.
And, in the 2001 and current state election season, the eastern end of the county has given five times more than the west: A total of more than $1 million in individual campaign contributions came from the east, compared with about $200,000 from the west, according to figures from the Virginia Public Access Project, which compiles figures from the State Board of Elections.
One reason for the disparity is that there are far more people in the eastern end of the county than the west.
Another reason is that the western end, being newer, is less plugged in to the local political establishment and less familiar with who is who in the county or in the legislative districts. Also, many live in private communities with homeowners associations and may be less inclined to look to a local elected official to effect change in their neighborhood.
"Along Linton Hall Road, those are very good precincts for us," said Brian Murphy, chairman of the Prince William County Republican Committee, referring to the road where thousands of houses have been built in recent years.
"The challenge, especially for my party, is getting the message to those voters, trying to turn as many into activists as we can. . . . I'm sure they're all aware it's a fairly Republican area, but some of the finer points of local politics probably require longer conversations," Murphy said.
Across the county, donations to Republicans solidly trump donations to Democrats, a disparity that is greater in the western end of the county.
Even so, the Democratic Party sees an opportunity to win over newcomers there, said Rick Coplen, county chairman of the party, even if he sees a similar challenge in motivating people to become involved in local politics.
"The challenge is to excite and energize and get them to participate," Coplen said. "A lot of these folks are so focused on the federal government, particularly if their work supports the federal government, that local government may not be as significant to them. Although it should be."
Indeed, though both parties have set up tables at fairs to try to recruit volunteers from new communities, both parties have found the task daunting.
"People are commuting, spending so much time on the roads, that it's hard to get their attention. . . . " Murphy said. "It's very tough to get on their calendars with an interesting program or something that motivates them."
Research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.