Election alters face of the South

MANASSAS, Va. -- The capital of the old Confederacy, a state known as the mother of presidents but that once barred interracial marriages like that of his parents, chose Barack Obama for president Tuesday.

"Virginia is no longer a southern state," says Robert Lang of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. "The northern part is an extension of suburban New Jersey grafted on to South Carolina."

Mark Thorpe has lived in once-pastoral Loudoun County for 20 years and seen cornfields turn into subdivisions and his all-white neighborhood become an ethnic and racial melting pot of new immigrants and young professionals.

"It is as diverse as anywhere," says Thorpe, 56, a software company owner who Tuesday canvassed his Sterling neighborhood for Obama. "It was more Republican in the early days. We can see the trend is definitely moving more toward the middle or the Democratic side."

Tuesday's historic vote follows by nearly two decades Douglas Wilder's victory as the nation's first elected black governor. Obama's victory is the first by a Democratic presidential candidate since the Old Dominion voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It fed on momentum built since "NASCAR Democrat" Mark Warner was elected governor in 2001.

On Tuesday, Warner defeated former Gov. Jim Gilmore for the U.S. Senate, marking the first time since 1970 the state will have two Democrats on Capitol Hill. He and fellow Democrats Sen. Jim Webb and Gov. Tim Kaine shared Warner's victory at a Democratic party in McLean. All three have made inroads in the fast-growing Washington exurbs of Loudoun and Prince William counties that President Bush won. They also chipped away at GOP advantages in rural areas.

Sarah Broadwater, 51, an Alexandria consultant, thought of her late father, who lived in the coal-mining town of Big Stone Gap in the state's southwest corner, at the moment Obama clinched Virginia. "He would be so proud of the changes in the Commonwealth," she said. "This is a night that turns a page in our history."

While Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry only briefly contested Virginia in 2004, Obama targeted the state early as a red state within reach, and his campaign helped register nearly 450,000 new voters.

Surveys of voters leaving the polls showed Obama running strong in urban areas of Richmond and Hampton Roads with large black populations and winning the Latino vote 2-to-1. He dominated Washington's suburbs and high-tech corridor where home foreclosures and high gas prices have hurt, outpolling Kerry in the state's most populous county, Fairfax.

Obama's strong effort shows "you can trump political stereotypes," says Steve Jarding, Warner's 2001 campaign manager. "Beat them with an African-American candidate in the South, and you really do see the power of message, culture, policy and hands-on politicking."

Obama launched his general election campaign in rural Southwest Virginia and wrapped it up Monday night with a rally in Manassas that attracted 80,000 people. His campaign opened 50 offices to McCain's 21 and outspent him 4-to-1 on TV ads here in the state, according to the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project.

Partisan missteps hurt McCain. Campaign adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer appeared to offend Northern Virginia when she spoke of the "real Virginia" that remained more Southern. McCain's brother Joe called Alexandria and Arlington "Communist country."

At a party of Virginia Democrats in McLean, Patricia Ramsey, a black college biology professor, recalled how whites closed her elementary school in Surry County, Va., after courts ordered they be desegregated. A President Obama says to her that young people "can be anything they want to be if they put their mind to it and work hard.

"This is America, and we can achieve the American dream."


Democrats gained at least one seat in Virginia's U.S. House delegation when Gerald Connolly won the seat of retiring Republican incumbent Tom Davis.

Connolly defeated Republican Keith Fimian in northern Virginia's 11th District.

Two GOP incumbents — Thelma Drake and Virgil Goode — were locked in tight races late Tuesday.

Eight incumbents won re-election. Republican Frank Wolf defeated Democrat Judy Feder in the 10th District. Republicans Randy Forbes, Eric Cantor, Rob Wittman and Bob Goodlatte also turned back Democratic challenges. Forbes beat Andrea Miller in the 4th District, Cantor defeated Anita Hartke in the 7th, Wittman beat Bill Day in the 1st, and Goodlatte beat Sam Rasoul in the 6th. Democratic incumbent Jim Moran defeated Republican Mark Ellmore in the 8th.

Democratic incuments Bobby Scott in the 3rd District and Rick Boucher in the 9th were unopposed.

Contributing: Associated Press