When Barack Obama is announcing new legislation or rallying the Democratic base, there’s one key destination the president is likely to visit: a Virginia public school.


President Obama shakes hands with students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, on Sept. 16, 2011 after signing the America Invents Act. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Last month, when the president was in search of a location to sign new patent legislation, he chose the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Alexandria. Last week, when Michelle Obama gave a speech about U.S.-Korean relations, she chose Annandale High School.

When the president is speaking about education, the chances that he’ll plant himself in a Virginia high school auditorium or an elementary school cafeteria are even higher. Recall that his 2009 stay-in-school speech — which conservative parents across the country labeled socialist propaganda — was given at Wakefield High School in Arlington. And his spring address on education reform, including a call to reform No Child Left Behind, was televised from Kenmore Middle School, also in Arlington.

These choices are no doubt the product of convenience as much as political calculation. A trip from the White House to Arlington or Fairfax doesn’t take more than 20 minutes.

But there’s more to it than that, as Obama has made clear in his numerous speeches in schools throughout the region. Even before he was elected, then-senator Obama chose T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria to deliver a key campaign speech about the need to improve American public education. It’s no coincidence that he chose to give that address at T.C. Williams; the high school has been identified as one of the nation’s poorest performing schools.

Similarly, it’s not surprising that he chose Thomas Jefferson High School to sign the patent bill. “TJ,” as its known, is often considered the nation’s top public school, with an impressive record of producing scientists and innovators.


First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady of the Republic of Korea Mrs. Kim Yoon-ok arrive at Annandale High School in Annandale, Virginia on Oct. 13, 2011. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

And it shouldn’t come as a shock that Michelle Obama chose Annandale High School to address strong U.S.-Korea ties; the community is home to one of the country’s most concentrated populations of recent Korean immigrants.

Obama is hardly the first president to tap into the intellectual and racial diversity of Virginia schools in his political addresses. His predecessors made similar jaunts across the Potomac — though perhaps not as many — to explain legislation and win over voters. Few regions in the country offer the variety of academic backdrops for the range of speeches that a president is expected to deliver.

Forty years ago, the Virginia Tourism Corporation told the country in billboards and television ads that “Virginia is for Lovers.” Turns out it’s for presidential politicking, too.