Northern Virginia is key to victory in Commonwealth

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For most the past six decades, Virginia has been a reliably-red state when it came to casting its electoral votes for president of the United States. While it had a history of electing Democrats to many state and local offices, including the election of Doug Wilder as the first black governor in the nation, when it came to choosing a President, Virginians voted bright red.

But all that changed in 2008 when President Obama carried the state by more than six points and most of that victory margin of 234,527 votes came from the CDs of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

I was first elected to Congress that same year after spending 14 years as a Fairfax County supervisor, the last five as chairman of the most populous jurisdiction in the Commonwealth. Although the 11th Congressional District was classified as a swing district and had been represented by a Republican for the previous 14 years, Barack Obama carried it in 2008 with 57 percent of the vote and the second-highest turnout in the state. Only the 8th Congressional District in Northern Virginia, represented by Jim Moran, and the 3rd Congressional District in Hampton Roads, represented by Bobby Scott, turned out larger margins for the Obama-Biden ticket that year.

One of the reasons why Virginia has evolved into a battleground state is its changing demographics, especially pronounced in Northern Virginia, which now provides one-third of the state’s total vote.

We’ve seen a rapid increase in population and job growth over the last two decades, fueled by our proximity to the federal government, an expansion of the high-tech and defense contracting industry, a highly-educated workforce, good schools, and a great quality of life. In fact, the census just noted that the top most affluent counties in the U.S. are all in Northern Virginia. With growth has come an influx of a diverse population from across the nation and the world who don’t necessarily subscribe to the narrow-messages and far-right tilt of today’s Republican Party. These new Virginians, many armed with the high-tech skills needed by regional employers, joined federal employees, military personnel, contracting employees, legal and medical professionals, high-tech entrepreneurs, and small business owners to help expand our strong economy.

Today, the 11th Congressional District is rated as the wealthiest district in the nation, as measured by median household income, primarily because we have built an economy that marries the needs of federal government with the technical prowess of the private sector. We now have a high-tech sector that rivals Silicon Valley, provides important services to the federal government, and meets the critical needs of the military and our national security interests.

In recent elections, Democrats like former Governor and Senator Mark Warner, former Governor and Senate candidate Tim Kaine, and President Barack Obama have followed campaign models that capitalized on the changing demographics of the state’s suburbs and exurbs, particularly Northern Virginia, in addition to the traditionally-Democratic cities, to garner support and boost voter turnout.

Another important factor is that President Obama’s policies have worked in our state. Every economic indicator demonstrates that Virginia has weathered the worst recession in 80 years better than most other states. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, our schools are some of the best in the nation, and we continue to attract Fortune 500 companies and other high-quality employers to our area.

The residents of my district and the region understand that the Commonwealth was only able to close its budget shortfall because Obama’s policies pumped funding into the economy when it was most needed, even though Romney ally and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is loathe to admit it.

These voters want their elected officials to get the job done, support pragmatic government and the services it provides, and are not interested in empty rhetoric or the simplistic rants of the now-fading tea party movement. They don’t subscribe to the Republican assaults on federal employees and women and they understand the value of service to their nation. They are also highly educated, as is required for a knowledge-based economy, and are repelled by the GOP’s sad lurch to anti-empiricism on issue such as creationism, anti-stem cell research, and global warming skepticism.

Their work puts them on the front lines, whether it is at the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, or Homeland Security, working in the private sector to strengthen cyber-security and enhance cloud computing, or developing new drone technology, body armor, and other deterrents to help our military men and women survive and win.

The voters of the 11th Congressional District and across Northern Virginia understand firsthand how President Obama’s policies pulled us back from the brink of financial calamity and continue to have a positive and direct impact on their lives and the lives of all Americans.

That is why this November, once again, Virginia voters will be casting their votes to reelect President Obama and elect Tim Kaine as our next Senator.

Connolly is a Democrat from Northern Virginia.