The Obama effect and the race in Virginia

Capitol News Connection

Analysts expect most of the 150,000 new voters in Virginia to vote for Democrats. That doesn’t bode well for Republican Congresswoman Thelma Drake. In 2006 she won by less than 5,000 votes. Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott says just relying on past voters won’t be enough this year.

REP. BOBBY SCOTT (D-VA): "I think Sen. Obama's presence on the ticket in Virginia will have an effect in getting a lot of people out to vote. He has shown a remarkable ability to get young people involved and that will seriously skew the electorate."

Even Democratic analysts were stunned by voter turnout in the primary. Chris Van Hollen is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or D triple C. He says he expects that trend to carry over.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): "Number one, I think you’re going to see a big turnout among voters who haven’t participated in process before in all racial groups. I just think there’s a degree of excitement this year that we haven’t seen in the past and so you’re going to see larger turnouts. You’re going to see extra-large turnouts among young voters. We saw that in the primaries and we expect that to continue. And I also think you’re going to see a boost in turnout of African-American voters."

Drake is on the Armed Services committee, which means she is able to funnel a lot of money home for local military bases. She says she isn’t scared by all the new voters coming out for Obama.

REP. THELMA DRAKE (R-VA): "I don’t see Obama being a factor in the race for the second congressional seat."

Drake is facing off against former diplomat Glen Nye. Nye is behind in the polls and money, but is slowly closing the gap. Nye is also getting help from national Democrats. The D-triple-C has set aside $35 million to run TV ads against vulnerable Republicans, like Drake.

JESSIE RICHMAN: "Additional money from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will help."

That’s Jessie Richman, a political science professor at Old Dominion University. He says Virginia is slowly turning more blue.

JESSIE RICHMAN: "The state as a whole is moving in the Democratic direction, its certainly no flaming Democratic state at this point, but it’s more Democratic certainly than it has been in past years."

Polls have come out that show more Virginians now identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans. Drake’s district is about 20 percent African American. Richman says he expects large percentages of that community to support Obama and probably vote for Nye.

JESSIE RICHMAN: "That turnout is going to hurt Drake, because people tend to vote for the same party down ticket, not always obliviously, sometimes they split the ticket, but it will tend to help Nye and hurt Drake."

North Carolina Republican Walter Jones disagrees. He says local voters will split the ticket.

REP. WALTER JONES (R-NC): "I'll be realistic. There will be some people that will vote from the top of the ticket and not look further down. I think more and more educated people are looking across the board. I really do."

Tom Cole is the chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. He says having the independently minded John McCain on the Republican ticket will help candidates like Drake, to a point.

REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): "As he gets defined, if McCain runs well, that will help us. But each of our candidates have to got out and run and win on their own. I always tell people to personalize their campaign. It’s got to be about more than their party labels. It’s got to be about them as individuals."

Drake has many big hurdles. Anti Republican sentiment is high, Democrats are motivated behind their presidential candidate, and the party will spend millions to defeat her. But Professor Richman may have summed it up best: Thelma Drake is a tough candidate who has won hard fought races, if anyone can hold that seat, she can.

Created by Bureau Chief and Executive Producer Melinda Wittstock, Capitol News Connection provides insightful, localized coverage of participating stations' congressional delegations.

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