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Political opponents, yes, but Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates share a taste for pricey Zip codes

Car enthusiasts meet up for Cars and Coffee in July, a weekend tradition in Great Falls, Va. (Robb Hill for The Washington Post)
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Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin, the Democrat and Republican running for governor in Virginia, are easy to distinguish from each other in their widely divergent political views.

But their taste in real estate?

Downright neighborly.

Both candidates for years have owned spacious homes in the wealthiest of Northern Virginia’s wealthy suburbs, in adjoining Zip codes that are as well-known for their powerful residents as they are for their gated mansions.

In McLean, where McAuliffe lives, and less than six miles away in Great Falls, where Youngkin resides, it is not uncommon to see a Porsche or a Maserati in the Safeway parking lot, or to happen upon, say, Colin Powell at Home Depot or former House speaker Newt Gingrich at the local diner.

That there are a couple of gubernatorial candidates in the ’hood is not exactly generating chatter among the well-heeled rank-and-file.

“So what?” said Carole Herrick, a longtime McLean resident and chronicler of local history. “It’s what the individual stands for that matters. I don’t care if they live next door.”

Over the years, Virginia has had its share of wealthy politicians, a club that includes Sen. Mark R. Warner (D), a tech tycoon before running for office; John W. Warner (R), the five-term U.S. senator and former secretary of the Navy who died in May; and McAuliffe, who amassed his fortune in business before being elected governor in 2013.

But it is a rarity for both gubernatorial nominees to reside in uber-gilded Northern Virginia Zip codes — Great Falls’s 22066, in Youngkin’s case, and McLean’s 22102, in McAuliffe’s, where median income and home values far exceed state levels.

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“It’s certainly overdue given the amount of votes cast in the Washington suburbs,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a University of Mary Washington political science professor. “Historically, both parties hesitated to focus on a Northern Virginia ticket because of concerns that other parts of the state would be resentful.”

At the same time, the candidates’ prosperous geography includes few of the realities faced by a preponderance of voters around the state, most of whom reside in far more modest communities.

“It’s hard to maintain a representative government when someone’s version of a bad day is not being able to go on their yacht and another’s version is not being able to feed their kids,” said Shaun Kenney, former executive director of Virginia’s Republican Party. “When you don’t live the day-to-day concerns of your constituents, it creates a disconnect.”

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But Trump was a “middle finger pointed at the elites,” Kenney said. “Despite their rhetoric, both McAuliffe and Youngkin are centrists, both are institutionalists and both are products of the society from which they have benefited.”

Unlike Trump, neither of them make a point of showing off their wealth.

In fact, both candidates highlight their more modest upbringings.

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Youngkin likes to tell audi­ences that he worked in a restaurant as a young man, a fact that he also advertises in the first two words of his Twitter profile (“Former dishwasher”).

“Glenn Youngkin is from Richmond and Virginia Beach, that’s where he was born, raised and worked for minimum wage to help his family when his dad lost his job,” the candidate’s spokesperson, Macaulay Porter, said in a statement.

Christina Freundlich, a spokesperson for McAuliffe, a product of a middle-class neighborhood in Syracuse, N.Y., said the former governor is “the only candidate in this race with a proven track record of supporting and lifting up hard-working Virginians.”

Accumulated wealth

Whatever their roots, both candidates had accumulated wealth before moving to McLean and Great Falls, enclaves that are part of a circuit of affluence around Washington that includes Kalorama and Georgetown in the District, Potomac in Maryland, and Chevy Chase in both.

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McAuliffe was a rising star in Democratic fundraising circles in 1992 when he paid $1.1 million for a seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom house on two acres in McLean. The McAuliffes’ five children have had the run of a large backyard, a swimming pool and a tennis court.

Youngkin was an executive at the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, in 2003 when he paid $1.7 million for 13 acres in Great Falls. The Youngkins then built their own seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom house and acquired an additional 31 acres around their property. There’s a pool and a full-length basketball court for their four children.

Across the road from Youngkin’s home, an estate billed as “Chateau De Lumiere” — eight bedrooms on five acres — is on the market for $14 million. “Inspired by the elements of the cosmos,” the Sotheby’s ad says of the 24,000-square-foot mansion that includes a bronze entrance, a swimming pool, a movie theater and an indoor basketball court.

For all their wealth, Great Falls and McLean can still feel like small towns, with dry cleaners, hardware stores and houses of worship. Both McAuliffe and Youngkin happen to frequent the McLean Family Restaurant, a popular eatery that neoconservative Bill Kristol once described as a “Deep State diner.”

Patrons of “MFR” — the restaurant’s Washington-style initialism preferred by regulars — include those who enjoy the spotlight (Gingrich and Kristol) and those who prefer the shadows (CIA headquarters is 2.6 miles away).

While the breakfast spot is a favorite of both Youngkin (three pancakes, two fried eggs, sausage, and coffee) and McAuliffe (cheese omelet, sausage, and “many coffees”), the two men say they have had few, if any, encounters with each other there, or anywhere else.

'I was an interloper'

When he entered statewide politics in Virginia in the mid-1970s, former senator Chuck Robb’s challenges included proving that a candidate living in McLean could connect with a largely conservative electorate wary of anyone north of the Occoquan River.

Robb and his wife, Lynda, the daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson, had bought property on the banks of the Potomac, where they built a home that eventually included nine bedrooms and a pool with a retractable roof.

“They would say, ‘You Northern Virginians can’t be trusted,’ ” Robb, a Democrat who also served as governor, recalled in a telephone interview. “I was an interloper.”

During his campaign for lieutenant governor in 1977, Robb said he and his wife “went around the state pointing out all the places where I had relatives who were buried. That put the issue into perspective for some people.”

Robb won the race, then captured the gubernatorial contest four years later. He was the first Northern Virginian to become governor since Robert E. Lee’s nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, won 96 years earlier, though he had decamped for Stafford County by then.

Political geography became less important as the region’s population and influence swelled. In the 25 years after Robb’s election as lieutenant governor, Northern Virginians John Warner, Mark Warner and Don Beyer ascended to statewide office.

More recently, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), and former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II (R) all resided in Northern Virginia when they were elected.

What distinguishes McAuliffe and Youngkin is that they are running against each other while living 5.8 miles apart in the area’s toniest neighborhoods.

The median household income in McAuliffe’s Zip code is $123,000, or nearly twice Virginia’s median; the median home value is $922,000, more than three times the state figure, according to Hamilton Lombard, a University of Virginia demographer.

Great Falls, with a median income of $228,000 and a median home value of $1.08 million, “is the wealthiest Zip code in Virginia,” he said.

Over the years, residents of Great Falls have included Gilbert Arenas, the Washington Wizards star; NRA chief Wayne LaPierre; former CIA director Stansfield Turner; and Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania.

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“We have fabulously rich people in Great Falls, but there are many more in McLean,” said Karen Washburn, a Great Falls Realtor, resident and local historian. “I’m not going to tell you who they are because I’d like to continue to earn a living.”

John and Robert Kennedy have been among McLean’s best-known residents — both lived at Hickory Hill — as well as former vice president Richard B. Cheney, Kenneth Starr, and Joe Biden, who, after his term as vice president ended in 2017, rented a mansion once owned by former secretary of state Alexander Haig (during his stay, the future president visited MFR, where he was photographed with the kitchen staff).

Gingrich said he and his wife, Callista, were shopping for a home years ago when they toured a property in Old Town and saw that “an alcoholic was sleeping on the ground near the entrance.”

“We thought, if Callista is out until 10:30 to 11 p.m., and I’m on the road, is this the kind of risk we want to take?” he asked. “So we moved to McLean.”

Policy, not personality

On a Saturday morning in Great Falls, the local Republican Party set up a table with signs for Youngkin and other GOP candidates. Across the way, Democratic activists were at their own table promoting their party’s ticket.

By all appearances, the farmers market a few yards away was drawing more interest from passersby.

“Right now, people are looking for more energy,” Ed Martin, an acolyte of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, said as he staffed the Republican table. “You have to do the basics. You have to show up.”

Yet showing up may not mean much in a community where residents said they were more focused on policy than personality and had already decided on their candidate.

“McAuliffe isn’t from McLean, he’s a politician, and we’ve already had our go-around with him,” said Melvin Visnick, 73, a retired deputy director for the federal government, as he stood outside McLean’s Giant.

He’s with Youngkin.

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A few yards away, Walter Hall, 70, a retired attorney, said he doesn’t care where McAuliffe or Youngkin live. The fact that Youngkin supports Trump, Hall said, is all he needs to know to vote for McAuliffe.

Before driving away, Hall recalled that he once encountered Gingrich in an aisle at the Giant.

“We discussed toilet paper,” he said. “It wasn’t a long discussion.

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