For just the second time during the campaign, and the first time since Aug. 6, President Barack Obama crossed the Potomac into Virginia Tuesday to weigh in on the gubernatorial race on behalf of Democrat Creigh Deeds, trailing in the polls to Republican Bob McDonnell with less than a week to go before the Nov. 3 election.
Obama electrified a crowd of 5,700 mostly college-aged African American supporters at the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, invoking the same enthusiasm that carried him to victory in the U.S. presidential campaign last year, including the first victory for a Democrat in Virginia since 1964.
But almost all credible polls show McDonnell and his lieutenant governor and attorney general counterparts with double-digit leads only days before the election.
In the Falls Church area, all the campaigns remain in high gear, with at least one more opportunity to meet Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Jody Wagner being tonight at the Northern Virginia Urban League’s candidates forum at the James Lee Community Center, 2855 Annandale Road, from 6 to 9 p.m. Wagner will appear, while all the other statewide candidates will be represented by spokespersons. Wagner, Deeds and attorney general candidate Steve Shannon were slated to march in the Vienna Halloween Parade last night.
In addition to the three statewide campaigns, three Falls Church area state delegate races are all also being hotly contested.
Fairfax School Board member Kaye Kory, who upended Democratic incumbent Del. Bob Hull in the primary last June, is squared off against GOP challenger Danny Smith, who is seeking the office as an openly-gay candidate for the second time, in the 38th District that includes most of the Mason District in Fairfax County.
Democrat incumbent Margi Vanderhye is running for a second term in the 34th District in the McLean area, challenged by the GOP’s Barbara Comstock.
In the 53rd District that includes the City of Falls Church and Merrifield, 18-year veteran Democratic incumbent Del. Jim Scott is facing his first opposition since 2001 in newcomer GOP activist Christopher Merola, a resident of the district since March.
Scott and Merola faced off at the Falls Church Community Center last Wednesday night in what turned out to be more than the sponsoring group, the Falls Church chapter of the League of Women Voters, bargained for.
A small arts education room reserved for what was planned as a sedentary event was crammed to overflowing by an unexpected large and loud turnout of Merola supporters, many of whom exhibited the aggressive style of the Tea Party interventionists who disrupted town hall meetings on health care reform across the U.S. in August.
Among the attendees was the self-described Northern Virginia chapter chair of the Tea Party movement, who publicly asked Scott why he had not completed a Tea Party questionnaire. Scott made no apologies for not responding, saying the group has a predetermined right wing agenda. Merola did complete the questionnaire, a copy of which shows that Merola considers spending on Virginia Medicaid “excessive,” and affirms the notion of transportation competing with public education, public safety and health care for sales and income tax revenues.
That answer contradicted what Merola said in the debate that, unlike other Republicans, he does not support funding transportation from the state’s general fund.
Merola deflected Scott’s criticism of Republican policies in Richmond by arguing he was not in on the votes. Scott then rebutted Merola’s criticism of his achievements in Richmond by reminding Merola that his party has not been in control there. Merola favors correcting a late 1940s federal law that he said imposes too sharp of a separation between church and state.
A number of Falls Church residents at the event, including Commissioner of the Revenue Tom Clinton via e-mail, expressed their displeasure at what they called the “rude” behavior of the pro-Merola activists in the tight quarters, often interrupting and shouting.
For the election overall, voters can cast ballots “in person absentee” at the Fairfax County and City of Falls Church voter registrar offices this Saturday, and on election day next Tuesday, the polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Hoping to confound the polls, Obama stressed getting out the vote among the 500,000 newly-registered voters signed up last year during his presidential bid. That factor will remain the “x” factor going into Election Day, although Republicans are brimming with confidence.
Fairfax County Republican Committee chair Anthony Bedell has called supporters out for another mobilization this weekend, triggered by a rally at the Interstate Van Lines in Springfield Saturday morning at 8:30 p.m. featuring McDonnell, lieutenant governor candidate Bill Bolling and attorney general candidate Ken Cuccinelli. A special guest will be Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. The “Victory Operation,” he said, has rented out the ballroom at a Tysons Corner hotel with more than 200 phone lines.
He noted that while polls show the GOP slate ahead by more than 10 percent statewide, it is “neck and neck” in Fairfax County.
The Democratic slate of Deeds, Wagner and Shannon will be joined by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb to rally their “get out the vote” effort Saturday at 1:45 p.m. at the King Street Blues in the Kingstowne Center of Alexandria. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee announced no less than 32 different locations where phone banks and organizing efforts will be operating through the weekend, including at the 350 S. Washington St. location in the City of Falls Church.
As of press time Wednesday, the Falls Church News-Press is the only Northern Virginia-based newspaper to endorse Deeds, although the D.C.-based Washington Post also has, and is an influential force in the region. The Arlington Sun-Gazette, McLean-Oakton Sun Gazette, the Loudoun Times-Mirror, the Winchester Star, Manassas area News and Messenger, the Culpepper Times and the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star have all endorsed McDonnell. D.C.’s Washington Times and Washington Examiner both endorsed McDonnell. The Washington Post-owned Fairfax Times and the Connection newspapers had not endorsed as of yesterday.
Following Obama’s rally Tuesday, White House Press Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that Virginia “is definitely purple,” as opposed to wholly Republican red or Democratic blue. However, the Democrats have enjoyed an unbroken string of victories in statewide elections since Mark Warner’s election as governor in 2001, followed by victories for Governor Kaine, U.S. Senator Webb, Warner as U.S. Senator, and President Obama. That string is threatened to be broken next week.