Swingin’ in Virginia

flag_of_virginia.pngThis weekend we drove back north to the ancestral homeland in Arlington, Virginia, for my high school reunion — I can’t bring myself to reveal which one it was except that it’s been quite some time. The return trip brought us down the old familiar trail of US Route 17, a mostly two-lane highway winding through the picturesque, rural hinterland of eastern Virginia from the Piedmont down into Tidewater. Autumn colors are beginning to come up, it was a beautiful cool crisp day, and traffic was light. Here and there families were bent down in the fields picking pumpkins, cars were parked for harvest festivals. A great fall day.

But I mention all this not for the idyllic natural scenery but because of the striking evidence of a possible sea change in the political landscape. Virginia has been a reliably red state for four decades. And “the Nation’s first district”, as the long strip of land bisected by Route 17 is known, has had a Republican congressional representative for longer than most people can remember. When I arrived here in 1994, the Democrats didn’t even bother putting up a candidate for Congress because it was pointless. It almost certainly still is, though a brave soul has decided to take the plunge this time.

nations_first_district.gifBut here’s the thing. When we drove up to Arlington yesterday, I was astonished to see what appeared to me to be equal numbers of signs along the road for McCain and Obama. This is utterly unheard of in my experience here. For example, in 2004, my estimate, admittedly non-quantitative but based on many weeks of observing the bumper stickers of hundreds of pick-up trucks and mini-vans, is that Bush-Cheney bumper stickers outnumbered Kerry stickers by at least ten to one. Probably more.

So, on the way back to Gloucester, we decided to quantify the patterns. Along the whole stretch of Route 17 from Fredericksburg to Gloucester, we counted the number of political sign for McCain and Obama (counting each group of signs that clearly was posted together as a single “installation”). And the tally was:

Obama: 28

McCain: 23

Interesting. But what does it mean? That is harder to say. It’s been well publicized that Obama has raised substantially more money than McCain — also a rather striking change of fortunes, so to speak, since the Republicans have typically raised more money in past presidential elections. This means there is more money available to pay staff, print posters, and get them out on the roadside. So it’s conceivable that the larger number of Obama signs means only that the campaign was able to pay a bunch of warm bodies from DC or New Jersey to come down and plaster the roadsides.


On the other hand, lots of the signs seem to be in people’s yards, which suggests that they reflect the views of real people that live here. I suppose we’ll find out — in 23 days.

So why I am I talking about this on the Natural Patriot? What does all this mundane politics have to do with Natural Patriotism? I mean apart from the solemn responsibility of all citizens to exercise their democratic responsibilities.

The reason is that your vote makes a difference (leaving aside for the moment that annoying little detail that we still use the curious, antiquated institution of the electoral college, which has historically meant that, given my minority status in this state, my vote meant jack squat).

How does it make a difference? You be the judge. Here are the League of Conservation Voters‘ report cards for Barack Obama and John McCain.

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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One Response to Swingin’ in Virginia

  1. Joanne says:

    Its funny my area is very republican first area but I saw a similar thing in the pre-election signs and just listening to people as they discussed the election. By the way, Ive been to the Arlington area, very beautiful in the fall.