FAIRFAX, Va. – Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling thanked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for taking “time away from his campaign’’ on Wednesday to come to this Washington, D.C., suburb, but the gratitude was certainly mutual.
Sure, Romney offered a jolt of media exposure to the local and state candidates running on the Nov. 8 ballot who joined him at the party’s Fairfax County headquarters. But as the Republican front-runner himself pointed out, northern Virginia will undoubtedly be a battleground once again in the 2012 general election.
“This is where President Obama—then it was candidate Obama—made his last campaign stop. This was his last visit and then he went on to win,’’ said Romney, referring to the Nov. 3, 2008, rally that drew tens of thousands of people to nearby Manassas. “We’re now going to send him a message from that last place he campaigned that we’re taking back the White House.’’
Obama became the first Democratic nominee since 1964 to win this state as part of his successful strategy to expand the party’s playing field. The president’s agenda was rebuked just one year later, when Republican Bob McDonnell swept the independent vote to win the governor’s race. McDonnell ran a mainstream campaign centered on the sluggish economy that narrowly won over this Democratic-leaning county as well as the neighboring swing counties of Loudoun and Prince William.
Romney would relish replicating the “Bob’s for Jobs’’ strategy in northern Virginia, an area chock full of well-heeled, socially moderate professionals and civil servants.
“He is a Republican candidate made for northern Virginia because of his professional and educational background,’’ former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said of the Harvard-trained corporate executive and former governor of Massachusetts. “A more conservative nominee would allow people to stay with Obama, but if you get Romney, who is a little more tolerant and polished, you can see them leaving in droves.’’
McDonnell, who looked a little like Romney’s alter ego in a similar white shirt and blue tie, praised his record as a businessman and governor but didn’t offer his endorsement. McDonnell has a more imminent election to worry about. One week from Tuesday, the Republican Party will try to prolong its winning streak in state government by wresting control of the state Senate away from the Democratic party.
“The first salvo in next year’s campaign starts right here in the commonwealth of Virginia,’’ McDonnell said.
Asked if he would consider the popular governor as a running mate, Romney said, “It would be presumptuous for anyone in my position so far from the nomination to start thinking about who might be a vice president.’’
But his visit to the Washington, D.C., area—which included two fundraisers that garnered roughly a half-million dollars—suggests Romney has his eye on the pocketbook-oriented, suburbanites who will decide the 2012 general election.
Still, under pressure for declining to take a stand on a labor issue while campaigning in Ohio on Monday, Romney made an overture Wednesday toward a conservative base that remains his toughest sell. “I’m sorry if I created any confusion in that regard,’’ he said, referring to his silence on the Ohio referendum to curtail collective bargaining rights. “I am 110 percent behind’’ it.
That remark provoked a storm of outrage from his Republican rivals as well as Democrats, who said it demonstrated his serial propensity for flip-flopping on issues. But Romney's refusal to parrot the conservative Republican orthodoxy—he would not sign anti-abortion and anti-tax-hike pledges that he said were too sweeping—indicate that he's looking beyond the Republican nominating process to the general election. It's likely to be decided by suburban voters like those he met in northern Virginia. For them, ideology is less important than acumen.
"I want a businessman," said Consuela Woodford, a 62-year-old Republican activist wearing a Romney sticker on her tan blazer. "I want someone who knows how the world works. It's a matter of necessity."