O.K., it’s official: With the presidential nominating contests finally, mercifully kaput, and the party’s respective candidates solemnly girding themselves for November’s political battle, our quaint little Commonwealth is fast emerging as the key battlefield of 2008’s wide-ranging electoral war.
How do we know, you ask? Well, let us count the ways: Barack Obama’s very first stop after securing the nomination was a spirited rally at Prince William County’s Nissan Pavilion. Both Obama and his Republican opponent John McCain have made high-profile announcements touting their extensive Virginia operations—Obama boasts 250 volunteers and a one-time director of Tim Kaine’s winning 2005 gubernatorial bid. McCain countered with the former campaign manager of retiring U.S. Representative Tom Davis. Both candidates are already running ads across the Commonwealth, and the list of “expanded” battleground states being pushed by the Obama campaign invariably leads with the holy trinity of Virginia, Georgia and Indiana.
The holy trinity of Virginia, Georgia and Indiana tops the list of battleground states the Obama campaign believes can go into their win column in November.
To be sure, Obama has some reason for guarded optimism. Not only did he absolutely clobber Hillary Clinton in the Old Dominion’s Democratic primary, but his total number of votes outstripped McCain’s by over two to one. Add to that a couple of recent polls (by Public Policy Polling and SurveyUSA) showing Obama with a small but persistent lead over McCain heading into the general election, and you have all the makings of a classic, game-changing political upset.
All of which brings us to our central, carefully calibrated strategic question to the Obama braintrust: Are you freakin’ kidding? You do realize that no Democrat has won Virginia’s highly coveted presidential prize package since Lyndon Johnson, right? Hell, even Jimmy Carter couldn’t do it in ’76, and he had an anti-Nixon tidal wave at his back and an accent that makes Virgil Goode sound like Basil Rathbone.
But you know what? We couldn’t be happier that the Obama brigade is going to give it the old college try. If there was ever a candidate tailor-made to break the GOP’s Southern-strategy headlock (and create some entertaining, history-making political havoc in the process) it would be the smooth-talkin’, good-lookin’, Kenyan/Kansan C-Span sensation that is Barack Hussein Obama.
And yes, we admit it: Even cynical political smart alecks such as ourselves are giddy at the prospect that Virginia—which ignominiously fought a losing 1967 Supreme Court battle against Richard and Mildred Loving to keep interracial marriage illegal—will end up providing the margin of victory for the nation’s first melting-pot president. (Unless you count Warren G. Harding, of course—but that’s an entirely different column.)
But even if Obama doesn’t romp to victory, the mere fact that he’s strongly competitive in Thomas Jefferson’s old stomping ground is manna from heaven for us Virginia political fanatics. After all, it’s bound to create all sorts of entertaining, unexpected (and, for some, uncomfortable) political hijinks, no matter the outcome.
Just take Senator McCain’s recent attempt to woo disaffected Hillary voters by sponsoring a conference call with some of Senator Clinton’s most prominent Virginia supporters. Unfortunately for him, it turned out that one of the key organizers of the event, Paula Abeles, has a controversial history of working to keep descendents of TJ’s slave mistress, Sally Hemings, from attending official Jefferson family events. Even better, as the Associated Press reported way back in 2003, Abeles (who is married to Nat Abeles, former head of the Jefferson family Monticello Association) was so obsessed with the fight that “she masqueraded as a 67-year-old black woman on an Internet chat room in a bid to keep descendants of a reputed Jefferson mistress out of [that] weekend’s family reunion.”
That is comedy gold, people! It’s exactly the kind of lunatic electoral skullduggery that gets us out of bed in the morning, and we can only hope that the Obama team keeps prodding our cozy little hornet’s nest all the way ’til November, just to see what other sorts of craziness comes buzzing out. Like we said: Loving it!