Anybody who has run statewide in Virginia can tell you the importance of winning in Northern Virginia. And anybody who wants to win Northern Virginia knows how important winning Fairfax County is.
With Virginia being one of the top three battleground states, along with Ohio and Florida, the importance of Northern Virginia – and my home county of Fairfax – cannot be understated. The road to the White House this year goes straight through Fairfax County. If Romney does not do well here, he will not be the next President of the United States. There are few, if any, realistic road maps to the White House for Romney that do not include winning Virginia. And there are few, if any, realistic road maps to the White House for winning Virginia that do not include tightening up the totals in Fairfax.
The most populous county in Virginia, Fairfax boasts 12.5% of Virginia’s total population, over 1 million residents. Of that million, nearly 708,000 are registered voters and 631,000 of those are active – having voted in one or more elections in the past four years. Virginia has around 5.1 million registered voters, of which 4.7 million are active. Thus, Fairfax contains nearly 14% of the registered and active voters in Virginia – by far the largest percentage in the Commonwealth.
Since 1984, Fairfax County has made up a significant percentage of the ballots cast by Virginians in the Presidential races.
Here’s quick rundown on how Fairfax has voted in the last seven Presidential contests:
Until 2004, Fairfax had been a Republican stronghold, giving Republican presidential candidates their votes in each race since for twenty years, including years like 1992 and 1996 when Republicans failed to capture the White House. In 2004, Kerry took Fairfax by 7 points, requiring George W. Bush to make up the difference of 33,000 votes downstate. He did that by crushing Kerry in Augusta, Bedford, Campbell, Chesterfield, Faquier, Frederick, Roanoke and York counties, winning by nearly 30 to 40 points in each.
In 2008, Obama crushed McCain in Fairfax, defeating him by 110,000 votes, almost 22 points. There was no way he could make up that kind of a margin downstate. Even looking at the largest counties that went heavily for Bush against Kerry, Obama held McCain to single digit victories in Chesterfield and Faquier. Obama outperformed Kerry in 10 counties by enough to win those counties outright, while only underperforming Kerry in 2 counties to lose them. It was Obama’s blowing up the numbers in Fairfax while winning Prince William and Loudoun that enabled him to withstand losing most of the rest of the counties in Virginia.
To put it simply – you can’t win Virginia without keeping Fairfax close.
If Mitt Romney wants to be President of the United States, he has got to keep Fairfax competitive or win it outright. Given that Fairfax went for both Kerry and Obama, the only scenarios that show Romney winning Virginia require him to replicate George W. Bush’s efforts in 2004. He needs to keep Fairfax County competitive and he needs to blow up the numbers downstate in the largest, heavily Republican performing counties. He can’t afford to lose Fairfax by more than 30,000 votes. The better he does in Fairfax gives him padding to withstand the inevitable drubbings he’ll receive in parts of Southside and the rest of Northern Virginia.
The same thing can be said for George Allen and Tim Kaine’s race for U.S. Senate. In 2006, Allen lost Fairfax – his home county – by 70,000 votes. He made enough up downstate to only lose by 9,000 votes across Virginia, but had he done just a point or two better in Fairfax, he would have won. In 2000, Allen only lost Fairfax by 13,000 votes, going on to beat Chuck Robb by 124,000 downstate.
What this means is that Fairfax County is going to be one of the bloodiest of the battlegrounds in Virginia and in the nation when it comes to the Presidential race. Those of us up here are going to have our work cut out for us.