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Virginia GOP Already Deep Into Post-Mortems

Some Republicans say John McCain is in danger of becoming their party's first presidential candidate since 1964 to lose Virginia because he hasn't put enough stress on issues such as illegal immigration, gay marriage and abortion.

No, no, say other Republicans: McCain is heading toward the worst GOP showing in Virginia since Barry Goldwater's because he and the party have strayed from the core principles that have lured moderates for decades -- lower taxes and less government spending.

Well, maybe, says a third set of Republicans, but the main problem has been that McCain has run an unfocused, low-energy campaign that comes off as sniping and negative, especially to independent voters.

What all three Republican perspectives share is the view that McCain's effort in Virginia is sputtering. McCain made his first visit of the year to Prince William County yesterday, and he and running mate Sarah Palin visited Richmond and Virginia Beach last Monday. This burst of attention may be too little, too late.

"I literally begged the campaign to have McCain or Palin visit," says Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. "Prince William and Loudoun are the swing counties where this election will be won or lost. This is the battleground, and Obama and Biden have been here four times."

Stewart, who won statewide notice by pushing for his county's tough enforcement drive against illegal immigrants, says McCain has done himself and the party a disservice by steering clear of that issue. "But the reality is that McCain has never been strong on this issue," Stewart says, "and his differences with Obama on it are not very big." McCain has alienated some conservatives by proposing to let illegal immigrants stay here as guest workers and earn U.S. citizenship.

Although the emotional power of the issue has dissipated in Prince William -- Stewart says that's because the get-tough policy is working and many immigrants have left the county -- he's confident that a presidential candidate who emphasized a crackdown would be rewarded with victory in Virginia.

State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli from Fairfax County, who largely agrees with Stewart on immigration, nonetheless argues that that's exactly the wrong kind of issue to stress in an election that will be won by reaching toward the center.

"You have to focus on what unites you," Cuccinelli says. "McCain is so far out there on this issue from the conservative base's perspective that you'd end up fighting with your own people rather than bringing in new people."

Del. Jeffrey Frederick of Prince William, who is chairman of the state Republican Party, argues that "immigration and the other social issues aren't really what people are thinking about right now."

"People care about those issues, deeply, but when they're driving home, they're not thinking about how to stop people from having abortions, they're thinking about the traffic and how to get home faster," Frederick says. He says McCain's mistake has been to be "all over the map on the issues. The key is to focus on very few issues and hit them relentlessly. Right now, that's the economy, health care and taxes."

(Frederick didn't help McCain's cause last week with a remark comparing Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden. The comment, which Frederick later said was meant as a joke, sparked denunciations from leading state Republicans.)

McCain's poor showing in recent Virginia polls has the party arguing over how to stem a tide of Democratic successes. In a state that the GOP controlled a little more than a decade ago, Democrats have won two straight governor's races, a U.S. Senate seat, and one house of the legislature; next month, they might add the other Senate seat and two or more House seats.

The battle for the state Republican Party's future is already shaping up. On one side, people such as Stewart and Prince William supervisor John Stirrup, who launched the drive against illegal immigrants, will push to "make this the front-burner issue that it is in voters' lives," as Stirrup says. "Honestly, I think it would have been an effective issue in this presidential race," he says. "Statewide, going forward, I don't see how you can avoid it."

Stewart intends to make the topic unavoidable. "After the election, I'm going back on the road to get more counties to do what we have done in Prince William," he says.

Prince William commissioned a study of county residents' views in the wake of the crackdown on illegal immigrants. The results show that whites, blacks and Asians are happier than ever, but Hispanics for the first time in the survey's history gave markedly lower grades on the quality of life in Prince William.

The ethnic gap was especially deep when residents were asked about the police department: Although 95 percent of Asians and 93 percent of non-Hispanic whites said they're satisfied with county police, only 84 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Hispanics reported satisfaction.

Stewart argues that Hispanics who are here legally will come around when they see the economic and social benefits of the crackdown and the resulting exodus of illegal immigrants from the county. That, he says, will boost Republicans who emphasize the issue.

But Cuccinelli, despite his own strong conservatism, warns that the only way the GOP can hold its own in Virginia is to "stop mentally writing off whole sections of Fairfax because we think they've moved to the left. As the population in a district shifts, the party has to be more open to candidates who reflect that district."

That's next year's debate. For now, Cuccinelli says: "I'm voting to avoid my worst concerns about Obama rather than pursuing my highest hopes. If that doesn't work out, the world won't come to an end. I'm not going to offer to move to Canada and then renege."

By Marc Fisher |  October 19, 2008; 8:08 AM ET
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Comments

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Obama for President. Help is on the way.

Obama 2008.

Posted by: Sammy | October 19, 2008 9:05 AM

The Funny Truth is that the GOP cut their own chances of winning by alienating the Hispanic / Latino votes.

What were they thinking when they killed the Immigration bill last year? That the Hispanics would Vote for them?

No one that was ever against Almighty Gods children won anything. NO HUMAN IS ABOVE ANY OTHER HUMAN IN ALMIGHTY GODS VISION< ALL HUMANS ARE EQUAL.

Posted by: Funny Truth | October 19, 2008 10:03 AM

After Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Jim Webb, the RPV is still acting like Virginia is a blood-red GOP stronghold. Jim Gilmore? Really? Was there anyone in this state, aside from the most delusional conservatives, who thought that Jim Gilmore would have a chance against Mark Warner? You could have run a scarecrow on the Republican ticket, and he'd do just as well.

Look at the numbers, not just in Northern Virginia, but in Tidewater and the Richmond suburbs. The demographic writing is on the wall. Yet the Virginia GOP is content to whistle past the graveyard in the hopes that Virginia will somehow spontaneously reverse itself, electorally speaking, and become friendly to radical conservatives again--people like Stewart, Frederick, and Cuccinelli. It'll be interesting to see if they're still whistling after November 4th.

Posted by: drgrepper | October 19, 2008 11:18 AM

Illegal Aliens are illegal !!!!!!!

Posted by: OneifbyLand | October 19, 2008 1:56 PM

I'm happy that the VA GOP is sitting on their long ago laurels. It makes our job of winning Va easier. Did these guys miss the past few VA elections and the Democrats winning? Did they think it was a fluke? I'm pretty sure right now most sane people are thinking about the economy- not abortion or gay marriage. Palin can continue her rabble rousing racist-tinged rallies but that only lowers the opinion of the GOP candidates in most minds. Congrats, Sarah, on getting the Klan and Neo-Nazi vote for your side.

Posted by: Silver Spring mom | October 19, 2008 2:07 PM

Corey Stewart did not do anything more than run the Hispanics from Prince William County into other counties. Way to go! He only moved the problem into someone else's neighborhood. I certainly hope he's not looking to run for state-wide or federal office. He doesn't solve problems, he only makes them someone else's.

Posted by: Callie | October 19, 2008 4:39 PM

McCain simply doesn't care about Virginians. Barack Obama will remember us when he's in the White House. Gov Tim will make sure of that!

Posted by: Roland Stone | October 20, 2008 1:01 AM

A few blocks from my house, there was a BIG "McCain's Country" sign, which bothered me. It made me smile when it was "removed" a few days later. I guess local residents needed some more firewood.

Posted by: JoeDaBeast | October 20, 2008 7:15 AM

They're all right; some people care about each of those things and some people care about all of them but with shifting priorities.

Basically, people are po'ed at Bush and the Republicans and they want a change. We'll see what happens when Obama is elected and housing prices don't rise, jobs don't start back up, people still die in Iraq and Afghanistan, your taxes are raised, traffic still sucks and the losing sides positions are either ignored or attacked.

Posted by: Stick | October 20, 2008 9:04 AM

What do you call a member of the US senate with a more liberal voting record than the body's only Socialist- A Marxist.

Obama isnt a Socialist but a Marxist even some his friends and colleagues agree.

IS it too late to draft Dick Cheney!

Posted by: Anonymous | October 20, 2008 9:26 AM

I canvassed for Obama in Prince William yesterday. I saw lots of McCain-Palin signs, but among the "sporadic" voters I and my canvassing partner talked to, Obama beat McCain by a nearly 3-1 margin. Moreover, most of the Obama supporters already knew the location of their local polling place, which is a strong indication of their intention to vote. And oddly, I didn't see any McCain canvassers in the streets at all. I guess they were taking the afternoon off to watch football.

Posted by: Patrick | October 20, 2008 9:54 AM

The problem is that THE problems in this country will NOT get fixed in their four year term. So either the American people are going to go into a downward spiral of electing a president trying to change what the previous did, only to go through the cycle again. Obama needs to be given the chance to change the ills of this country.....the world is watching, unlike any other election, here or abroad. This decision will re-define our country's legacy.

Posted by: JoeDaBeast | October 20, 2008 10:08 AM

You clowns in VA deserve what you get with Obama. Maybe it is time for a coup and remove all liberals from any and all offices.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 20, 2008 1:11 PM

seriously?

I hope you're just huffing and puffing behind anonymity on a comment board on the internet and not serious.

Elections come and go and different candidates get elected different years. Positions change.

Please don't advocate for a coup d'etat without knowing what that really means.

Posted by: Cavan | October 21, 2008 9:11 AM

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