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Could Mark Warner's Virginia Juggernaut Hurt Obama?

Ok, so Barack Obama didn't pick Gov. Tim Kaine to be his #2, but the Democrats' emphasis on Virginia as a--or perhaps even the--crucial swing state in this fall's campaign is hardly flagging. With more than 30 campaign offices spread around the Old Dominion, a torrent of TV spots on Virginia airwaves, and former Gov. Mark Warner as his convention keynote speaker tonight, Obama is making the biggest play for the state's votes in four decades.

"You've got 44 years of history working against you," Warner noted in a phone call with Virginia reporters yesterday, but with 200,000 new voters registered in the state and lots of enthusiasm among young people, the governor says there's a real chance that Virginians might vote Democratic in a presidential race for the first time since Lyndon Johnson won in 1964.

But even given Warner's sturdy popularity three years after he left office and his gaping lead in the polls over Republican Jim Gilmore, are there really reverse coattails? Would a Warner romp push Obama over the top, or might Virginians's legendary political independence assert itself in the form of ticket-splitting?

In interviews in some evenly-split areas of Fairfax County, I encountered quite a few Democrats and Republicans alike who are Warner admirers, but have deep doubts about Obama. In some of those interviews, people who are certain they're going to vote for Warner (and for Fairfax County board chairman Gerry Connolly in his congressional race) say that those selections may fulfill their duty to the Democratic party, sort of freeing them up to go with John McCain for president.

This obviously puts Warner in a pickle, and really, all he can do is campaign hard for Obama and make the argument that those who support him ought to also go with the man at the top of the ticket. But Warner has always presented himself as a bipartisan or post-partisan figure, and while much of that is mere rhetoric, it nonetheless resonates with those who view him as a reasonable person and no-nonsense businessman. Warner made it clear that he has no intent of acting as a Democratic attack dog.

He says he told Obama's people from the start that "if they want a slash and burn, contrasting speaker, that's not me." Warner's obviously not going to run away from Obama, but neither is he likely to traverse the state bashing McCain--at least not too hard, given that his whole shtick is that he draws (and needs) independent and Republican votes.

Warner agrees that despite Obama's power to bring out big crowds in some fairly conservative places (he named Manassas as an example), there are parts of the state where he is personally popular but where Obama is a tougher sell. "In Southside and Southwest and parts of the Valley, Sen. Obama's got to translate that enthusiasm of some into a willingness of larger numbers to listen" to his message, Warner says.

Warner opened the conference call by calling this election and his speech "a real chance for Virginia to shine" and noting that the state "doesn't fall along the red-blue line as much as you"--and here he caught himself falling into media-bashing to a bunch of media hacks, so he paused, backed up and made certain that he restricted his slam to "the national media." But Warner is right--the simplistic conceit that dominates the cable TV version of American politics, the idea that we are polarized into red and blue states, is neither useful nor particularly accurate. A great many Virginians are smack in the middle, and have very little use for party labels or for parties at all.

(Insults aside, reporters on the conference call yesterday deserve combat pay, as the Warner campaign some wag decided to assault our ears with that bluegrass ditty we'd thought and prayed we might not have to hear ever again--yes, it's the return of The Ballad of Mark Warner," the campaign theme from his gubernatorial bid, the one that starts out, "Mark Warner is a good 'ol boy / From up in NoVA-ville. / He understands our people / The folks up in the hills.")

(The first edition of this here blog item attributed the decision to play the Warner song to the imagemakers of the campaign, but Warner campaign press secretary Emily Kryder now alerts me that her shop had nothing to do with the use of the song during yesterday's press call. Rather, she says, it was some wayward reporter who piped in the music during lulls in the action. Will that newshound now step forward and identify himself? I'm not holding my breath, but all tips should be emailed to me and I will keep the tipster confidential in service of finding out just who inflicted the Ballad on us.)

Warner seems to agree that there is a large pool of voters who haven't figured out Obama yet, who may want a change from Bush and the Republicans, but who aren't ready to take a flier on a guy who seems new to the scene. "There are folks who Sen. Obama hasn't closed the deal with," Warner says. "What I would take issue with is I don't think Sen. McCain has either."

That conforms with the discussions I've been having with Fairfax voters....more on that coming up this week in the column.

By Marc Fisher |  August 26, 2008; 8:20 AM ET
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I vote for Warner and would have voted for him for prez over Mccain. Cant vote for Obama too liberal and he will raise my taxes on my measely $95k a year. I am an independent. I vote for the Depends wearing Mccain. Obama also has a problem with his TV image he comes across as slightly effete law school prof. Not the image ne needs to project in today's world.
I just wish Dick Cheney had run for the Republican nomination. Anyone who shoots a lawyer gets my vote. And I have to hold my nose and vote for Mccain since he is USNA puke!

Will not vote for that crook Connolly because the man has taken more bribes from
from area businesses than any crooked Chicago pol. And Fairfax Cty is facing a budget crisis because of his failure to go after illegal immigrants.

My only hope is my State Senator Ken Cucinelli loses his bid for staewide office. You shouldnt be allowed to run for any office if you are ignorant enough to home school your kids.

Mccain is every middle class and working class mens idol. Who wouldnt want to marry a attractive hot babe who will inherit one of the largest beer distributorships in the US. And he dated strippers back in flight training! A mans man! Do you think Obama ever dated a stripper or has seen one!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 8:42 AM

>>>...and [Obama] will raise my taxes on my measely $95k a year. I am an independent.<<<

Not correct. The proposal on middle class classes is lower if income is under $102,000.

Posted by: Nonsense | August 26, 2008 9:16 AM

>>>...and [Obama] will raise my taxes on my measely $95k a year. I am an independent.<<<

Not correct. The proposal for middle class tax cuts will be lower if income is under $102,000.

Posted by: Nonsense | August 26, 2008 9:18 AM

Not correct. Ninety-five thousand dollars per annum is not measly. In 2005, according to the Census Bureau, VA median household income was under $55,000. It may be a bit more now, but not $40,000 more. Hold your head up; you're doing all right for yourself.

Posted by: Fake-Name-Guy | August 26, 2008 9:40 AM

Oh please how can he afford all his grandiose programs? Who will pay for them?
Which income group has the most effective lobby in Congress? And I am single tax payer hoss! Did I qualify for the previous tax rebate under the Dems this year? No Do I qualify for the energy rebate credit or whatever it is under the Dems this year No! Many dems want to go back to the ole tax rates before Reagan where the richest paid 65%+ in federal income taxes! Sorry the richest 1% of income earners create jobs not the middle class. Obama also wants to raise capital gains. Great move along with raising income taxes in a Recession. Can you say Depression. Remember the Carter years of double digit mortgages! Sorry bubba the rich have tax lawyers and CPAs to minimize their tax bill because their lobbyists have put in little gifts in tax legislation. Feds like me earning about $100k dont have that opportunity. And a $100k isnt anything in this area.

Never ever believe any pol on taxes. Its all smoke and mirros.

And where does Obama mentiona $102K? And I bet that is family income not a single tax payer.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 9:45 AM

$95K may be great in the RoVA but here in NoVA you can almost qualify for food stamps with it. Hopefully you're single if your household income is $95K. Averages never satisfy anyone.

Posted by: Stick | August 26, 2008 10:18 AM

I agree with those who take the position that the election remains so close because of racism in America. I'm ashamed to acknowledge it, but I have a sister and brother-in-law, who would never vote for a black person solely because of the color of that person's skin. And, being originally from south central Louisiana, I can tell you from personal knowledge that this is the case with many white people in that area and elsewhere. Yet, these same people call themselves Christians and claim to worship Jesus Christ, although He never condoned racism and made it clear through His teachings that it was unacceptable. While I'm certainly proud of my country, I'm disgusted by large numbers of its inhabitants, who are ignorant, irrational, and will get exactly what they deserve if they put John McSame in office. My sister and brother-in-law continuously gripe about how bad things are in the United States. Yet, they believe that George W. Bush has been a "good" President. It's simply impossible to engage people like this in a rational discussion of the conservative policies that have undoubtedly been the cause of our problems or the need for change to save our country from certain destruction. I can only hope that the educated electorate described by Thomas Jefferson as being necessary to the survival of our country outnumber those for whom prejudice, intolerance, and ignorance form the foundations of their thought processes. Obama/Biden 08!!!

Posted by: caliguy55 | August 26, 2008 10:54 AM

Cry me a river...My 35k gets me by fine here in NYC and the current tax code takes about a third of that. Apparently it takes about three times that to live in VA?!? When people talk about Obama raising taxes it is a dead giveaway that they are rich, because his plan would lower my taxes.
Many republicans want to continue Reagan and Bush's ballooning of the national debt by cutting taxes to the wealthy. Have you felt anything trickling down lately?

Posted by: Benny | August 26, 2008 10:57 AM

News flash to the 95k'er: If you're whining about taxes at your bracket, quit filing jointly with your wife. That's right, be a real man and stand on your own two feet.

I'm a healthcare executive for Veteran Affairs. I make a good income and am not afraid of taxes because I'm educated enough to understand that there is no such thing as a free meal. Healthcare, public roadways, and education all require public funds to support. I am willing to give my fair share because I have been blessed to be as fortunate as I am.

Maybe you should try giving a bit more to charity if you're so affected by taxes at 95k, even under Bush, and you'd have the write-offs to offset them. My guess is you lack those true Christian values, "that to those who are given much, much is expected". Take a look at the 80% of Americans that are below you and then cry me a river about your taxes.

McCain can't even remember how many houses he owns, that's how pathetically out of touch he is. Does he even have a sense of morality, seeing as he cheated on his first wife when she fell ill after waiting for him through his 5 years of captivity? Can he even relate to millions of Americans raising children and struggling to provide them educations and healthcare, when he is not raising any children of his own in today's hard economy?

I'm voting for Obama-Biden because they represent the middle-class, which is anyone making under $250,000...not $5,000,000 like Exxon John seems to think.

Posted by: Kevin | August 26, 2008 11:37 AM

If Obama hasn't "closed the deal" with some voter after 8 years of Bush's tragic ineptitude and six months of having the media treat Obama like some combination of John Kennedy and Jesus Christ Jr., there is NO reason to believe he'll "close the deal" between now and November.

The Democratic leadership, by sabotaging Clinton and swinging for the fences with an ultra-liberal candidate, have struck out. That's what happens sometimes when you swing for the fences.

Posted by: dyinglikeflies | August 26, 2008 11:41 AM

Virginia is consistently one of the best run states in the Union. Virginia has very good assets but no one thing that it can consistently rely on for its commerce and tax base. What it has is great leadership in Democrats, Republicans, its bureaucracy (yes..its bureaucracy. I have had excellent results in dealing with state offices.) and a bipartisan atmosphere that produces results.

Thank God rural Virginia where I live can counter balance the only damaging segment of the Commonwealth's electorate which is the Northern Virginia liberals (Puller, Amundsen, et al). Let's hope Mark Warner (one of the brightest, most progressive politicians on the scene) can get the liberal wing of the Democrat party and Obama to consider a best practices approach to government. If so, they need go no further than the practices found in Virginia.

Posted by: RTGreenwood | August 26, 2008 11:42 AM

I really love Obama's plan to tax the oil companies. Especially the part where he thinks that is going to help ME.

Like, he thinks I am stupid enough to believe the oil companies won't raise prices even more to cover the tax.

Yes, I know he is promising a $1K rebate check to us from the oil company tax, but there are restrictions. Plus, the rebate is one time only and I can think farther into the future than one year.

Anybody expect to get the $1K rebate more than once? Anybody expect Obama to drop the oil company tax after one year?

All you lemmings who just raised your hands, the cliff is on the left. Take a walk.

Posted by: DC Voter | August 26, 2008 11:50 AM

Mark Warner is a solid candidate, not great. I'll vote for him because he looks great against who he is running against. Connolly has been pathetic in Fairfax County. Good riddance to him. I would never vote for him if he were running in my district.

Posted by: Ace | August 26, 2008 11:55 AM

Not to get lost in the digression into tax policy or to inject race into an election in a state where it really isn't a factor...

The biggest difference between Warner and Obama is the pure partisanship Obama's voting record represents. He will likely have a hard time glossing over a voting record that is left of Kennedy, Schumer, Dodd, etc. in moderate areas of the state like Loudoun and Prince William counties. McCain's reputation as a maverick bucking the Republican party-line will do better with cross-over independents and liberals. Instead, McCain needs to worry more about getting the typical Republican core constituency energized right now to provide some grass-roots support for the home stretch. Virginia will be won or lost precinct by precinct through voter turnout, not by speeches, debates, or platforms.

Posted by: Leesburger | August 26, 2008 11:57 AM

Hey hoss Roman Catholic. Have never been a Christian. Dont consider myself a Christian adn I am sorry Jesus Christ was a Roman Catholic. And you wonderful socialists missed my point If the rich pay more taxes you will pay more for gas, to have HVAC reapirman come to your house, more rent etc. The rich aint going to eat the tax increase. And they have CPAs and tax attorneys to help them avoid it. Move more off it into investment vehicles that dont benefit our economy or create jobs. Really bright move. You dont raise taxes on anyone when the economy is in a recession. Especially on those folks who create jobs. Sorry bubbas the middle class doesnt open Subways, restaurants or bars these days in most cases. Difficult for the middle class to start any business that isnt a sole proprietorship. All Obama wants to do is redistribute income which does nothing to increase GDP or create jobs. And remember good ole Billy Boy Clinton cut the taxes on capital gains which resulted in more tax revenue and the tech bubble. A president has very little control or effect on the economy unless he does something really stupid like drive capital investment away from job growth and economic expansion into investments that are tax shelters etc.

The last thing anyone should want unless they are a socialist is for Congress to mess with the tax code again. Hey you middle class posters and Mr I make $35k in NYC do you have a lobby on the hill to lower your tax rates? No! Who does? Who always comes out ahead in any rewriting of the tax code? The middle class never never ladies!

So dont come crying when President Obama is faced with double digit unemployment and double digit mortgages and Iran is kicking our butts. Sounds like 30 some years ago when another naive leftist Dem was pres. Remember Jimmy Carter?

And no I am single.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 12:14 PM

This convention got off to a great start last night. I was really counting on Warner to point the way forward for our party tonight and maybe cut through some of the Hillary stuff, but I'm afraid he sounds pretty half-hearted to me here. I hope he'll surprise me.

Posted by: Concerned in Fairfax | August 26, 2008 12:14 PM

We blew it in 2000. Blew it in 2004. Now look where we are - an outstretched military, $10 trillion in debt (much of it to China), a Russia that no one decided to talk to, a situation in Darfur that we dare not address, and an economy that is continuing to spiral. Let's not forget that we have done nothing to address the environment either. The list goes on and on. Will McCain address these issues, or simply pander to the special interests of the right wing - Oil, Defense, Insurance, Pharmaceuticals, etc. We also have a once in a lifetime candidate that could seriously address our nations problems and bring the country together. Yet, the polls are split? Will this country blow it again in 2008?

Posted by: Vic | August 26, 2008 1:16 PM

The country would be much better off if Warner had not wussed out of the presidential campaign and taken on Obama and Hil.

Dems need to remember he is more VA Democrat than Obama socialist leftist I am world citizen dem!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 1:28 PM

"The school renovations aren't going so well,"

$200 million renovation, every classroom open on time.

"The teachers are resisting Chancellor Michelle Rhee's ambitious plan to undo decades-old seniority and tenure rules,"

Michelle will get her way on every point.

"and student performance remains persistently miserable."

Student test scores just had their best improvement ever.

What's the matter Marc? Is DCPS success bad for your column?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 8:43 PM

The Associated Press: Toby Keith praises Obama Toby Keith praises Obama. By RYAN PEARSON – 6 days ago. LOS ANGELES (AP) — Barack Obama is getting praise from Nashville

American Soldier- Toby Keith (tribute)

Obama/Biden '08

Posted by: Yeil nas’gadooshú | August 26, 2008 9:37 PM

Bottom line: Presidential candidates can say whatever they want about raising/lowering/eliminating taxes. CONGRESS is the one with the real power to affect taxes.

When the Bush tax cuts expire (which will happen automatically) everyone's-rich/poor/middle class-taxes will go up UNLESS Congress acts.

I don't have much faith in a Dem-controlled Congress (if that event takes place) to lower taxes or keep tax cuts for anyone of any income level.

Posted by: None of the Above 08 | August 27, 2008 12:18 AM

Obama cannot carry any state that has that mentality of racial prejudice. Is Virgina one? I would say so, having lived in Fairfax before the boom and seen parts of the state south east of the town. Once you get away from the areas near D.C., Virginia is as prejudiced as Alabama.

What is interesting is that we do not understand that voting based on color actually is against our interests.

People vote based on color assuming 'the guy who looks like me will care for me'. Not true. My dad was swindled by someone who looked like him. He was a Marine Colonel, and the business guy was a polite guy who looked like Dad. Now all Dad has is the military pension.

My brother was an electrician. He hated Latinos, blaming them for taking jobs away. But it was my brother's boss--yes, same looks and cloth as my brother--who exploited him, and we know this only after my brother got another job, where he was paid 30% more. The Latinos? They got paid mimimum so my brother's boss could make even more.

Any one honest enough with himself (well herself too) ought to know that what is in our interest is:

1. Yes, Lower taxes. To get this however the most expensive government spending on non-essentials have to be cut. What would that be? The War in Iraq, that has bankrupted the US Govt.

2. More jobs. Now most jobs are created by SMEs (small and medium enterprises). I have a relative in Ohio, who owns one. She and her husband voted Republican for lower taxes. Now they are facing business closure. Why? Healthcare costs have gone through the ceiling. Only a state wide or nation wide system that removes the cost of health care for SMEs will allow these firms to survive. I think they still vote Republican as they hate black people, who are "lazy"!

3. Healthcare. This is a no brainer. In this country we pay 15% of GDP for healthcare to cover 80% of the population. Up in Canada they pay 9% of GDP to cover 100% of the people. I travel there all the time--they do not worry about getting sick. Companies like Toyota love Ontario, thank you very much, they say.

What many do not understand is that this election is not about Obama. It is about what the country needs, what real people need. But, if people cannot see beyond skin color or name or religion or some other silly thing, like a flag pin or bowling abilities, then they are set for:

1. Higher taxes by stealth. (There are other ways to raise taxes: by inflation, for example, as the US borrows to spend and the US Dollar loses value, making products more expensive. People do not understand that they are paying more because of the badly run war economy. People only see the taxes paid directly, never thinking of the several other ways we get taken to the cleaners by government and businesses.)

2. More war. McCain wants to "win", even though there cannot be a victory in a miliatry sense in the war against the Iraqi resistence, just as it could not be done in Vietnam. Such wars in poor places cannot be won. The only victory to be had is by removing the troops early, and hope for peace there by supporting good government. More McCain wars will lead to higher waste in government spending... and an even greater devaluation of the US dollar, and greater inflation...

3. Vote McCain and less Healthcare... and fewer SMEs and less jobs, with big firms feeling the pinch going to Canada (less healthcare costs) or Mexico (cheap labor) to make products.


Any issue that interests middle class people will have problems of the sort I mention above.

The question is now is whether people understand that prejudice must simply be part of the 20th century and should have not no space in the 21st century. If prejudice is what guides the ordinary people, this country is in for a terrible time.

Posted by: Political Observer | August 27, 2008 12:28 PM

Borrow from China to pay for a war without end, and buy oil from those countries who are killing our soldiers... that's McCain's plan. Four billion a month for Iraq alone... how's he going to pay for whatever it is he's promising the American people. Well, that is the rich Americans and big oil companies.

At least Obama is intelligent. What a change that would be for our President.

Posted by: Ollie | August 27, 2008 2:00 PM

We better rise taxs, cause McCain printing more money will hurt everyone.Buddy can you spare a dime,will be back. Wake up you can't live on monopoly money. 80th birthday of Republican 1929 crash of stock market. McCaine same tune as 1929, fall guy for Republicans. Will end up with all the blame of Republican Corruption.Increase capital gain to 35 %,watch the market stabilize.

Posted by: barry barry | August 28, 2008 9:42 AM

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