In the new Virginia, in parts of Prince William County where people have arrived from Fairfax and New Jersey and India and El Salvador, all to find yards for the kids and houses they could afford, there’s a nightly ritual this time of year.
The TV is on, and tired parents are barely paying attention, but the ads are the same, hour after hour, and the images sink in: Two men running for governor slime each other in 30-second blasts of venom that speak about everything but what matters. There’s nothing about what it’s like to spend four hours a day commuting so your kids can go to good schools, or about what roads could be built so it might not suck an hour out of your Saturday to go to the dry cleaner, or about how to lure jobs to Prince William so you don’t have to haul out to Tysons or into the District five times a week.
These are the voters who will decide who is elected governor Tuesday. Many of them don’t follow politics closely, but they know enough to be annoyed. They’re people like Julie Gloster, a single mother of three, a widow at 30 who can’t get over how politicians refuse to work together, even when it hurts Americans.
“You can’t always win, sometimes you have to lose,” she said. “Sometimes, you turn on the news and everything upsets you.” She’ll vote for Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat.
And they’re people like David DePerro, an IT guy who is trying to make it as a screenwriter, who sees his neighbors’ lives paralyzed by traffic and wonders why “I don’t hear anybody talking about transportation in this race. How can that be?” He’s voting for Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican, whom he knows from church and considers honest and principled.
A couple of decades ago, Prince William was relatively insignificant to politicians in Richmond or Washington — a rural outpost that supplied milk and meat to the D.C. area, a reliably Republican place with not many voters. Now, this is one of the most vital spots on any political map.
It’s where President Obama started and ended his 2012 campaign. It’s where Cuccinelli moved after his Fairfax County district became more Democratic. In his part of the county, in Nokesville, he got more space, an easier commute to his job as attorney general in Richmond, and a welcoming community of conservative churchgoers.
Five miles north, in the Haymarket precinct, the new townhouse developments are filled with transplants and immigrants, young singles and new parents, Christians and Muslims. Prince William is home to 430,000 residents, and according to the Census Bureau, it’s been growing lately at more than double Virginia’s 2 percent growth rate. Incomes have been climbing, too; the median household level is now $ 94,000, 50 percent higher than statewide.
All that growth has shifted the county’s political complexion, turning it from the last conservative stronghold in northern Virginia — Prince William won national attention for its 2007 crackdown on illegal immigrants — into a remarkably accurate bellwether for a changing state. The county voted for Obama, twice, and for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), and for President George W. Bush, twice.