DC Suburb, Bellwether County, Critical to Winning Commonwealth

Photograph by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama at the home of John and Nicole Armstrong and their neighbors in Fairfax, Virginia.

It’s affluent, it’s a suburb of the nation’s capital and it’s the land of the independent voter.

And it’s a critical county for President Barack Obama to carry big in November if he wants to win the election. Republican Mitt Romney will start a four-day bus-tour of crucial swing states Saturday in Virginia.

We’re talking about Fairfax County, Virginia, a decidedly purple, swing county. Bloomberg’s Matthew Dowd, who served as a campaign polling adviser for President George W. Bush, highlights why the county is so critical in part three of our series “Bellwethers: A 50-County Election.”

As Dowd points out, Virginia has been carried by a Democrat only twice in the past 15 elections — by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and again by Barack Obama in 2008.

Home to many federal government employees, Fairfax has benefitted from an unemployment rate much lower than the national average at only 4.3 percent today, a good sign for Obama’s prospects there. He was successful in Virginia in 2008 because he carried Fairfax County by such a large margin — with 109, 365 votes — winning 60.1 percent of the vote over John McCain’s 38.9 percent.

“If you watch the returns coming in in Fairfax County and you see a close margin, it probabably means President Obama has lost Virginia,” Dowd said on Bloomberg TV. “If you see a wide margin in Fairfax County it means that President Obama has carried Virginia.”

There is no doubt the campaigns see the county as critical once again, with both sides pouring money into ads in the market.

For the 30 days ended August 6, the total number of ads aired in the Washington, D.C., market (which covers Fairfax County) was 6,228, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.

Obama had a plurality with 2,698, 21 percent of which were positive.

In the same time period, Romney and Romney-allied groups ran 3,530 ads — 1,402 were from the Romney campaign, 933 from Crossroads GPS, 666 from the RNC, 376 from American Crossroads, and 153 from Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super-PAC. Eleven percent were positive. During the same 30-day period, our other bellwethers saw a massive barrage of ads as well, with Orange County, Florida, raking in 6,597 and Hamilton County, Ohio, putting up 5,334.

Based on the latest U.S. Census data estimates, Virginia has a little over 8 million residents, 65 percent of whom are white, 20 percent black, and about 8 percent Hispanic. Fairfax County, however, is somewhat more diverse, with whites at just 54 percent, while the largest minority group is Asians,at 18 percent, followed by Hispanics at 16 percent, and blacks at 10 percent.

So as Fairfax County goes, so goes the rest of the Commonwealth?

“Absolutely. If [Mitt Romney's] gonna win the presidency, he has to carry Virginia and he has to do well in Fairfax County,” Dowd said.

Next time we take a look at Oakland County, Michigan.

Until then, take a look at part one and two of our series, focusing on Hamilton County, Ohio and Orange County, Florida.

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