“Red since 1964,” says a sign bearing a map of Virginia held by a partisan on Saturday at the Sean T. Connaughton Community Plaza in this bedroom community just outside Washington, D.C. But the polls point to a strong possibility that the state could break with that tradition in this presidential race. Democrat Barack Obama leads Republican John McCain by eight points in the RealClearPolitics average of the most recent surveys.
McCain, who cannot afford to lose Virginia, is coming here in the afternoon to rally the faithful.
And faithful they are. “John McCain has spent his entire adult life serving his country,” says a man who would identify himself only as John from Virginia.
Judy Zoll of nearby Manassas believes “in everything McCain stands for.” On his tax policies, she says, “The people who work hard get to keep what they earn — it’s the American dream.”
The crowd of a few thousand includes only a handful of people of colour. According to the 2000 census, nearly one in four residents of Woodbridge is African American, one in five Hispanic and one in 20 Asian.
The placards reflect the themes of the campaign: “No Redistribution,” “Record over Rhetoric,” “America Needs Experience” and so on. Several refer to Joe the Plumber, the Ohio man whose conversation with Obama, McCain used to raise fears that the Democrat will raise taxes to spread the wealth.
McCain arrives about 3:20 to a loud welcome. “It’s great to be here in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he says. “It’s a must-win state.”
“Obama’s economic goal, as he told Joe, is to ‘spread the wealth around,’” McCain says. “He believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs and opportunities for all Americans.” The speech, along familiar lines, plays well — as expected.
“I lived in a communist country, Cuba,” says Mireya Hayes, a realtor married to a retired US Army man. “Castro started like a young, innovative man of the people and he ended up as a communist. That’s what I fear —that we are on our way to becoming a socialist country if Obama wins.”
Christopher Wallace, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who now works for a government contractor, says McCain has shown good judgment, even on economic issues like the housing bubble. His wife Faye Wallace — nee Ferreira, from Mumbai — says, “McCain has the wisdom and the experience. Obama doesn’t have the experience.”
The challenge for the McCain campaign will be winning new converts and countering Obama’s formidable organisation on the ground.