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As blue as the Blue Ridge will allow it to be

The Northern Virginia numbers were what turned it Election Night, but don’t be misled by the TV drama that is Election Night. Because Barack Obama wouldn’t have won Virginia if he hadn’t done as well as he did in the Fifth and Sixth congressional districts.

Obama improved significantly on John Kerry’s performance in the districts that straddle the Blue Ridge – from 35.8 percent and 100,561 raw votes for Kerry in 2004 to 41.8 percent and 134,054 raw votes for Obama in 2008 in the Sixth and from 43.0 percent and 121,960 raw votes for Kerry in ’04 to 48.3 percent and 157,302 raw votes for Obama in ’08 in the Fifth.

The net improvement from ’04 to ’08 in the margins in the Sixth of about 20,000 votes and in the Fifth of about 30,000 votes accounts for about 10 percent of the shift in the statewide margin from Kerry-Bush to Obama-McCain. Bush defeated Kerry in Virginia by 260,000 votes in 2004, and Obama defeated John McCain in the Old Dominion by 200,000 votes in 2008.

That’s one way to look at the numbers. Another is to examine how things would have gone had Republicans hit their targets in the Fifth and Sixth. A friend in the local GOP had told me six weeks before the election that Republicans had targeted the Sixth in particular for a 70-30 districtwide split in favor of McCain as what they would need to counter the heavy majorities for Obama that were expected (and eventually materialized) in Northern Virginia.

Doing some quick math, and assuming in doing so that Republicans would have gotten the same turnout of voters to use as the baseline for their part of the 70-30 split, you’re talking about roughly 56,000 less Democratic Party votes for president in the Sixth District alone. Remember, now, that Obama won Virginia by 200,000 votes. That’s more than a quarter of the overall margin right here in the Valley. I don’t know firsthand what the GOP’s targets were in the Fifth, but even just assuming a split in ’08 similar to the 57-43 split in the Fifth in ’04 and you’re talking 32,000 less Democratic votes for president in the Fifth.

It’s starting to add up, isn’t it? Close to half the working margin for Obama in Virginia comes out this a-way. Not to mention the strong majorities for Mark Warner in his Senate race against Jim Gilmore and of course Tom Perriello’s apparent historic upset of Virgil Goode in the Fifth District congressional race.

Not bad for the reddest part of what used to be a red state, but is getting to look as blue as the mountains out here in our neck of the woods with every passing election.


Story by Chris Graham

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Hosts Chris Graham and Crystal Graham of Augusta Free Press highlight local news and newsmakers with an emphasis on the Shenandoah Valley on Viewpoints on WVPT.

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Chris Graham is the editor of Augusta Free Press, ESPN3 baseball broadcaster and the author of five books. Crystal Graham is the award-winning former host of WVPT’s Virginia Tonight.

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