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Chesterbrook Precinct: A barometer for what's coming

Good morning! We've set up shop here at Fairfax County's Chesterbrook precinct, south of Route 123 in McLean, to get a sense of how today's elections are shaking out.

Precinct 302, which opened at 6 a.m. inside an assisted living home called Arleigh Burke Pavilion, is in the heart of a Democratic-leaning district with an independent streak. So the results here will serve as a barometer for the key Dranesville district, in vote-rich Northern Virginia.

If GOP candidate Robert F. McDonnell wins this precinct, which appears quite possible based on recent statewide polling that showed him ahead overall by 11 points, would portend very well for the Republicans' chances. A forceful Democratic turnout might signal that the Republican sweep hoped for by GOP officials will not materialize.

President Obama won 54.6 percent in this precinct last November, a small piece in a puzzle that helped him become the first Democrat to win Virginia since 1964. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) won here by an even more resounding margin of 60 percent in 2005. And, in 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) defeated George W. Bush in the precinct with 51 percent.

Nevertheless, voters here are willing to back a Republican. Frank Wolf, the Republican congressman from the 10th district, beat Judy M. Feder in this precinct last year, even though it's near her home.

Democrat R. Creigh Deeds has shown he can win at Chesterbrook. In his party's June primary, Deeds picked up 61 percent. His rivals, Terry McAulliffe and Brian Moran, each received about 20 percent of the votes.

But McDonnell grew up not far from here, something that's been touted by the candidate in his visits and local ads.

Republicans hope that today represents a reversal of years of Democratic gains across the Commonwealth and in Fairfax County, where an influx of new residents shifted the region's political map.

What we're watching for at this precinct:

How high will turnout go? Have Democrats thrown in the towel or will they rally? Will polls keep Republicans confident and at home? Or will the chance of retaking the governorship bring them out in droves?

More importantly, how will the increasingly important independent vote swing?
Sixty-one percent of self-described independents in the most recent Washington Post poll of likely voters responded that they will cast their ballots for McDonnell. Those unaffiliated voters make up more than one-third of McDonnell's supporters, and in Northern Virginia such voters have responded well to his message about taxes, jobs and the economy.

Will "Obama Democrats" turnout? The president is not on today's ballot, and his popularity has slipped this year. The energy that propelled his candidacy also has dissipated somewhat. And national Democrats have preemptively laid the groundwork in recent weeks to blame a loss in a key swing state on a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign that failed to fully embrace President Obama until days before the election.

Will Margaret G. "Margi" Vanderhye fend off a Republican challenge in their House of Delegates race? A McLean Republican, Barbara J. Comstock, is challenging the first-term Democrat in what will probably be the state's most expensive House race this year. More than $1 million has been spent on the race. Vanderhye is seen as popular with business leaders and promises to push for new transportation funding. Comstock is running as a fresh face who will tackle the transportation crisis and protect education without raising taxes.

What issues are driving voters?
Transportation (those who commute through this area can attest to the traffic problems) are important here, but will it drive voting decisions?

How concerned will some voters, particularly women, be about McDonnell's 1989 graduate school thesis, which expressed far-right positions on a variety of social issues and shook up the campaign this summer?

Perhaps the most consequential debate of the general election campaign was held very close to here, in Tysons Corner, on Sept. 17. Deeds opened himself to criticism by saying at a post-debate session with reporters that he would not raise taxes but that he would come up with new money to pay for road and transit improvements. A video of his remarks went on YouTube, and the state Republican party replayed it in advertisements.

We'll try to answer these and every other question we can think of all day long. Check back often.

By James Hohmann  |  November 3, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Election 2009 , Election Day '09: Chesterbrook Precinct  | Tags: Chesterbrook Precinct  
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