Searching For The Border With Real Virginia
That elusive line is out here somewhere, and I'm asking people to help me find the border between red and blue, between "real Virginia" and, well, what -- fake Virginia?
"I call it New York South," offers Mitch Dickinson, 54, who lives near Fredericksburg and works for the state highway department. He draws the line along Fairfax County's southern border.
A top aide to John McCain said last week that her man is still on his way to winning the state because of his support in "real Virginia," which McCain senior adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer described as the "part of the state that is more Southern in nature, if you will."
That part is not to be confused with "communist country," which is how Joe McCain, the candidate's brother, described Arlington and Alexandria, which happen to be, respectively, where John and Joe live, but we don't talk about that part.
At Sarah Palin's rally in Fredericksburg this week, I am repeatedly assured that I have arrived in "real Virginia."
Dickinson says you know you're in real Virginia "when the big issue is hunting. People who are for hunting and the Second Amendment are going to vote Republican to protect against radical socialist communist views. It's also about faith: I don't see how any person who believes in Jesus Christ could vote for Obama or any Democrat."
His nephew, Travis, a 29-year-old truck driver, sees the split defined by views on taxes. "Virginia is the South, and in the South, people don't want high taxes," he says.
The gap is growing, says Robert Nelson, a salesman in Spotsylvania: "The rest of the state's gotten even more conservative because of all the conservatives moving here from Northern Virginia."
The Palin rally of course presents no cross section of opinion, but rather a particular stripe; yet this gathering in Fredericksburg is at the "tipping point for Virginia and the nation," says Susan Stimpson, the Republican chairman in Stafford County.
Some say that divide between Northern Virginia and the rest of the state follows Route 28 along the Fairfax-Loudoun line; others put the border farther out, along Route 17 from Fredericksburg to Warrenton to Winchester. But the more I talk to voters, the more I sense that the distinction isn't tethered to a particular line on the map.
"All I see in my neighborhood is McCain signs, and I said, 'Why do they keep saying Virginia's going to go for Obama?' " says Leah Paley, who traveled to the rally from Richmond. "Then I went to cast my absentee ballot, and I saw all these different people voting. In the past, where I vote, there weren't any blacks. This time, it was mostly blacks and young kids, and they were there for Obama."
To Paley and many others who think of themselves as real Virginians, that's a frightening prospect. "I have a friend who said she makes more than $250,000," Paley says, "but Obama's higher taxes are okay with her because it's her social duty to help others. Can you believe that? I said to her, 'Wouldn't you rather choose where your money goes?' I don't want my money going to somebody sitting on the couch watching Jerry Springer on TV."
These "real" Virginians say they fear an Obama presidency. For Lois Green, it's that "the United States is going to lose its sovereignty." Angela Greene, a stay-at-home mother from Fredericksburg who sports a "Hot Chicks Vote Republican" button, worries that "we'll become friends with Iran." Nelson says "our taxes will go up and our military will be cut."
"The homosexuals will get their rights passed, and they'll probably do away with the death penalty," says Mitch Dickinson.
"There could be small riots, because people don't like that amount of change," says Willy Humphreys, a farmer and construction worker in Stafford who, at 39, plans to cast his first vote ever, for McCain. "I've noticed that a lot of younger people are kind of into Obama, but for a lot of people my age, it's always been a Caucasian male."
"We're not ready for a black guy," says Angi Kraft, 39, a mortgage processor who has been laid off three times since February. "I'm scared he will be killed. I don't trust him. And I'm telling you, we are becoming a minority -- and a Northern state. They're all coming down here, the Northerners."
There's no such anxiety up the road at Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge in Prince William County. The "real Virginia" concept draws nothing but blank stares here. Most students feel no connection either to Southern culture or to the notion that Northern Virginia is an outpost of the District. They think of Prince William as generic suburbia, hardly different from similar settings in New Jersey or North Carolina.
Most of the 24 students I meet support McCain, though not one had watched the TV debates. But the McCain supporters express no fear of Obama, saying they prefer McCain because of his experience and their sense that he's stronger on national security.
"I don't know much about Obama," says Cassandra Brown, 18, who will cast her first vote for McCain. "My parents lean more toward Republicans, so it's how I was brought up."
The border I set out to find turns out to be not so much about lines on a map as it is about mental geography. "It's happening here, too," Kraft says. "We came here from Prince William to get away from them, and now they're coming here."
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