John Kerry's Virginia activists should follow the famous advice of Horace Greeley and "go west." Specifically, they should shutter their offices in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Tidewater and strike out for West Virginia, one of 10 battleground states identified by the Democratic nominee.
After all, if lightning strikes and Kerry carries Ole Virginny -- something a Democrat hasn't done since Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater 40 years ago -- the senator will have wrapped up 25 or more other states and won't need Virginia's 13 electoral votes. But realistically, Kerry's campaigners could have a far greater impact in the Mountaineer State than in the Old Dominion.
True, Kerry trailed George W. Bush by single digits in Virginia, according to an August Zogby poll. But after the GOP convention, Bush enjoyed a bounce. And after lavishing $750,000 on TV ads in Virginia, Kerry has opted to forgo further buys, which does nothing to aid his position with state voters.
In addition, other factors favor Bush in Virginia, though not in West Virginia:
* Virginia Republicans have strong ties with corporate leaders and Christian conservatives, the latter led by the Rev. Pat Robertson in Virginia Beach and the Rev. Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg. The mogul-minister alliance fills the GOP coffers with cash and the airwaves with anti-Kerry diatribes.
* In visits to Norfolk and Portsmouth several months ago, Kerry courted the state's 125,595 retired military personnel. Rick O'Dell, a Vietnam veteran from Roanoke, stepped forward to organize Veterans for Kerry. Yet the initial support that the Democrat garnered has been offset by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and others who excoriate his anti-Vietnam protests.
In addition, military retirees from all over the country make their home in Tidewater. Many, in the absence of family and friends, have found a community in the fundamentalist churches that provide pro-Republican electoral guidance along with spiritual satisfaction.
* The pro-Kerry AFL-CIO in the state has one of the South's lowest membership levels (5.6 percent), while the fervently pro-Bush National Rifle Association has its headquarters in Fairfax and commands a legion of dues-paying followers in Virginia.
* The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which prints 141,000 daily copies and 242,000 copies on Sunday, penetrates the south-central area of the state like the Union Army did in 1865. The major difference is that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant treated his foes as decently as possible during wartime, while the Times-Dispatch editorial page writers use their pens to bayonet "crackpots, academics, Massachusetts Democrats" and anyone else they deem to be to the left of the Rotary Club.
Kerry should do well in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax County. But his support declines with every mile traveled to the south or west.
Meanwhile, West Virginia is plagued by unemployment, mining-induced pollution and low-performing schools, despite having given George W. Bush its five electoral votes in 2000. Yet this traditionally Democratic bastion is definitely up for grabs in November.
Perhaps Kerry's Virginia team can help return its mountain-blessed neighbor to the party of FDR, Truman and Kennedy. It's only common sense, but as Greeley also said, "Common sense is very uncommon."
-- George W. Grayson
a former Democratic member of the Virginia General Assembly, teaches government at
the College of William & Mary.