Jolynn Pehlke's house alarm has been working fine, and she hasn't heard about any recent break-ins in the neighborhood. Even so, she had the Siemens alarm guy out to her Loudoun County house the other day to double-check.
She wanted him to take a look at the motion sensors on her staircase, just to make sure that if an intruder tried to sneak upstairs while she, her husband and their two children were asleep, their alarm would alert them.
Pehlke knows her neighborhood is secure. It's one of the reasons her family chose a house in the new Lansdowne on the Potomac development when they moved from Baltimore almost two years ago. Still, she said, she would never live in a house anywhere without that kind of protection. "You can never be too safe," she said.
Pehlke, 37, is one of thousands of people who have moved into this resort-style community in the past three years. The first residents arrived in spring 2002, just after Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) took office. Since then, so many have joined them that the area has blossomed into a new voting district, Precinct 813, with more than 5,800 registered voters.
For Pehlke and many others in her growing community, personal security and stability in their budding neighborhoods are critical issues that affect how they live and how they view Virginia's upcoming gubernatorial election.
Many people moved to the community looking for a strong neighborhood with tight family bonds and say they are wary of looming forces that could disrupt their new lives. Those worries are a way of tying together issues as disparate as terrorism and taxes, immigration and gangs, and it might help explain why Republicans have been scoring big in new communities.
"Predictability is important there," said John D. Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, who has studied suburbs like Loudoun across the country. "What is often panned and taken as an unfortunate label of suburbs being uninteresting, this is often what people are looking for. They want it to be clean, safe, with good schools and low taxes."
Kasarda said Republicans have learned to speak to voters in the growing exurbs of major metropolitan areas. In the last presidential election, 97 of the nation's 100 fastest-growing counties, including Loudoun, chose President Bush over Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Republicans also have been doing well in local elections, and former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore is hoping a strong showing in such places as Precinct 813 will help carry him to victory over his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, in the governor's race Nov. 8.
But Kaine also is paying special attention to the outer suburbs. A Washington Post poll conducted last week showed Kaine ahead of Kilgore by six percentage points in the outer suburbs of Washington, which include western Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.
Pehlke is still deciding whether to vote. She had heard little about the race before seeing Kilgore campaign ads that question whether Kaine would enforce the death penalty despite his personal opposition to it.
"I'd vote for Kilgore based on them," she said of the ads. She finds it "inhumane" to oppose the death penalty for vicious child killers and found Kaine's response ads, in which he pledges to uphold the death penalty, "a little too late."
Those ads were designed to catch attention in communities that traditionally vote heavily Republican and to increase turnout in what politicians and political observers expect will be a close contest, said George Mason University political scientist Mark J. Rozell.
"It's clear Kilgore is trying to mobilize his constituency, and this is one [issue] that can motivate his people to come out and vote."
He said the appeal to personal security has been even clearer in this year's race for attorney general, in which candidates Del. Robert F. McDonnell (R-Virginia Beach) and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) have competed to take tougher stands against sex offenders.
In Precinct 813, where there are more children in each house than average for the county, residents said they've been increasingly worried about violent criminals who prey on children.
Jeff MacIntyre, 36, who moved to the neighborhood two years ago and lives a few streets from Pehlke, said crime fighting is one area that leads him to believe increasingly that Republicans tend to do a better job keeping his family safe. In 2000, he voted for Gore. But since he and his wife watched the smoke rising from the Pentagon from their Alexandria townhouse on Sept. 11, 2001, he has supported President Bush and, more and more, he said, Bush's party.
"I have a little girl, and I worry about these things more and more," he said. "I'm a lot tougher than I used to be on all those issues."
Computer consultant John Tully, who moved to Lansdowne on the Potomac 16 months ago, said he made a disturbing discovery recently -- graffiti for the gang MS-13 on a nearby overpass. Tully said he wants to hear politicians take a tough stand on illegal immigration, which he believes is feeding the violent gang's growth.
"I know they're active. In Sterling, they've been implicated in some pretty violent attacks, and that's not so very far from Lansdowne," he said.
The Kilgore campaign launched a television ad Friday that refers to illegal immigration as a "growing crisis."
Other forms of security are also on the minds of people in the community. Residents have made large investments in their homes, and some said rising costs for gas, home heating and college tuition are making them jittery.
Bob Becker, who sells computer software, has been watching economic indicators carefully since Hurricane Katrina caused gas prices to spike at the start of September.
"Right now I think you have a country where the middle class is as affluent as it has ever been," he said. "It's probably reached further than it ever has, and a lot of people are awfully leveraged by low interest rates and the opportunity to buy more for less. The economy could take a real hammering. . . . If anyone tells you they're not talking about this, they've got to be lying."
Those anxieties might present an opportunity for Kaine, Rozell said. Some Virginians fret about the Bush administration's handling of the economy nationally, even as they give Warner credit for helping to fuel the red-hot job market in Northern Virginia.
Kaine describes himself as Warner's logical successor on economic and financial issues.
He has said suburban voters will support him because they believe he would do a better job supporting education. He has promised to start a statewide preschool program for 4-year-olds.
Kaine also has proposed new tools for local governments to control the pace of growth, an issue that also could bring support in this community, where many voters support home construction even as they fear developers are not being asked to provide the road infrastructure necessary to support it.
Caren Hill said she's not sure either side is addressing her anxieties about the racing local economy. Housing prices have been rising so quickly that at age 48, she said, she cannot afford to buy a home in the area.
Instead, she and her husband are renting a two-bedroom apartment in a 690-unit complex, also new since the last election for governor. It's one of several complexes in Precinct 813, which also includes a growing retirement community.
It makes Hill feel more transient to rent, like she lacks roots similar to those she planted in the Atlanta neighborhood where she had lived until two years ago, she said.
"I think it's really a shame when people who make pretty good money cannot afford to buy a house. There's something fundamentally wrong with that," she said. "And I think that's something that needs to be brought up."