Virginia’s Boom Town — and Lots of Votes — Just Outside the Beltway

BY Katelyn Polantz  August 15, 2012 at 4:31 PM EDT

If you’d like to get a sense of what will happen nationally on Nov. 6, you should get to know Loudoun County, Va.

Its wealth — Loudoun is often identified as the richest county in America — and growth — which is steady and impressive — compared with other metro areas place it on a number of top 10 lists.

NewsHour will air on Wednesday a story by Judy Woodruff that features voters in Loudoun County and nearby parts of Northern Virginia. Most told us they haven’t decided yet how they’ll vote.

These are the people that both presidential campaigns have thrown millions of dollars toward in television ads, those voters who may cast a single vote each but seem more important than their neighbors in Maryland, West Virginia, even Washington, D.C.

Both campaigns wager that rapidly expanding Northern Virginia carries enough people to make a difference in how the state’s 13 electoral votes swing.

Watch the NewsHour live at 6 p.m. EST

Virginia political scientists, like Stephen Farnsworth from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, have watched these voters and their interactions with the campaigns closely since 2008.

We recently asked Farnsworth to explain the political dynamics and what each candidate must do to win.

He discussed how Romney’s appeal walks a fine line between conservative ideals and a more moderate past:


And he boiled down the president’s strategy down to one that must revolve around enthusiasm:


But what about the other questions?

Why does the region find itself in this position? That’s fairly straightforward: The people have followed the money.

The international airport, Dulles, and its ample elbow-room, draw new development to the eastern edge of Loudoun County. Growing job markets in industries like biotechnology have attracted new talent. And of course, the federal government has underwritten boom towns with its defense budget and support of contractors.

For young people too, it’s a short trip into the hip corners of Washington, D.C., which continues to grow on its own as well.

As testament to the numbers of new residents the campaigns must convince, one of the main commuter arteries into this ring of D.C. suburbs has exploded with riders. Virginia Railway Express, a commuter train system that reaches into Manassas City and through Prince William County, carries 20,000 riders a day and has been on a trajectory of about 10 percent growth each year recently. VRE spokesman Mark Roeber says more than 90 percent of the system’s riders are registered voters.

At the same time, Loudoun leaders are working toward extending a Washington Metro line to their doorsteps.

The second question — what does this mean? — is something more uncertain. In politics, at least, the changes have swept in uncertainty. As Judy points out in her piece Wednesday, Mr. Obama captured the NoVa counties of Prince William and Loudoun in 2008, yet they bounced back to solid red for Gov. Bob McDonnell the following November. More recently, the Republican-led General Assembly has pushed itself into infamy, while the GOP of Loudoun County saw a dramatic shift in its favor in local politics.

Farnsworth tells us more about Virginia’s political toss-ups:


And for good measure, take a look at Virginia’s county-by-county breakdown in our Vote 2012 Map Center.

Charles Anderson filmed the interview, and Katelyn Polantz edited these videos.