Virginia’s role as a battleground state in the 2008 race gained continued traction Wednesday as Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and running mate Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska paid a visit to northern Virginia and promised voters that they are the best team to overhaul Washington.
Both Republicans pushed their message of “change” — long the calling card of Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign - - by sharing their vision of government reform with a crowd of thousands in a park in Fairfax, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C.
The candidates emphasized lower taxes, tighter government spending and energy independence while calling into question Obama’s qualifications to lead the nation.
Troy Caver of Woodbridge, Va., said he was impressed with Palin’s executive-level experience as a governor and mayor, and hoped voters would appreciate her leadership roles.
“I think all Obama can say is hope … well, hope is not a plan,” Caver said, adding that McCain and Palin have “had opportunities to put themselves into the throes of situations that required change, and they made change.” Listen to Caver’s take:
Virginia, traditionally a GOP stronghold in presidential campaigns, has been spotlighted this election year for a number of factors, including the booming population in the state’s northern regions and the fact that Virginia voters have elected Democratic leaders in recent contests, including Gov. Tim Kaine and Sen. Jim Webb.
“I thought that it was very Democratic here, so I was very happy to see all these Republicans!” said Fairfax resident Lisa Sharkey. Listen to Sharkey’s impressions:
During his remarks, McCain referenced the increased importance of the state saying “We must win it and we will win it with your support” and “I am so grateful for this turnout!”
In fact, his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, also hit the campaign trail in Virginia Wednesday, speaking to a school in the southern town of Lebanon before making his way toward Washington, D.C.
Regional Republicans say that while they realize their state’s political interests are shifting, McCain will offer the right message to convince moderates and independents in Virginia.
The campaign enlisted the crowd to help pitch to those pivotal undecided voters by calling fellow Virginians and asking for their support.
Bill Card of Dumfries, Va., left one message and got in touch with an undecided voter and asked her to tune into the McCain-Palin rally on TV. Listen to Card’s call:
Women in the crowd felt that McCain made a bold move to acknowledge the importance of a female voice by adding Palin to the ticket. Maureen Rehg of Alexandria, Va., said she used to be an ardent supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., but is disappointed by how she was been treated by the Democratic Party.
“A woman who got 18 million votes — how could they have put her aside for Joe Biden who, while running, got less than three million votes,” Regh said. Listen to Regh describe her decision to support McCain:
Looking to build on their appeal as reformers, McCain reiterated his call against pork-barrel spending and reckless earmarks during the Virginia rally.
“I got an old ink pen, my friends, and the first pork barrel-laden earmark, big-spending bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it. You will know their names. I will make them famous and we’ll stop this corruption,” he said.