Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

In Virginia's crucial county, military cuts worry swing voters

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
October 11, 2012 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: Loudoun County, Virginia, a must-win swing district in must-win swing state
  • Loudoun County's upper middle-class residents' concern is sequestration, he says
  • Those scheduled spending cuts may sway the county's undecided voters, Avlon says
  • Obama was the first Democrat to win Virginia since Lyndon Johnson in 1964

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- Take it from President Barack Obama -- Virginia's Loudoun County is a must-win swing district in a must-win swing state.

"We won last time in Loudoun County, and if we win again, we win Virginia," Obama declared at a rally in August. "And if we win Virginia, we win the election."

The final factor affecting many undecided voters in this wealthy Washington exurb is sequestration -- massive, automatic cuts scheduled to start taking effect at the the beginning of 2013 after the failure of a supercommittee to come up with a deficit-reduction plan.

Loudoun County is emblematic of the new northern Virginia -- upper-middle class, fast-growing and increasingly diverse.

John Avlon
John Avlon

Over the past decade, the landscape has transformed from quiet farmland to rows of upper middle-class houses.

As defense budgets boomed under President George W. Bush post-9/11, the industry expanded, and many new defense workers and contractors moved to Loudoun.

The county now has the highest median household income in the United States -- $119,000 a year. Population doubled over the past decade, to 312,000 -- and the Hispanic population has tripled.

This isn't old Virginia; it's new Virginia. And these demographic factors helped Obama become the first Democrat to win the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 -- by a margin in Loudoun County of just 11,509 votes.

Four years later, the unemployment rate in Loudoun County is strikingly low -- just 4% -- about half the national average. But these looming automatic cuts are creating a clear and present danger to Loudoun's economic well-being that is resonating here.

News: Energized Obama touts new jobs report in Virginia, Ohio

So sequestration weighs heavily on the minds of undecided Loudoun County voters such as John Dyer, co-founder of a 2-year-old small business -- KSH Tech Solutions -- that specializes in consulting to government agencies to increase efficiency.

Dyer is a coveted swing voter whose votes in the past reflect the winner of Virginia -- the voter that both campaigns are trying to reach in this final stretch. He's a native Virginian, raised in Richmond, and he cast his first ballot for Ronald Reagan. The first Democrat he ever voted for was Obama.

Four years later, he's concerned that Obama's run out of energy and the overall economy still hasn't improved as fast as he'd hoped. He understands that the deficit needs to be dealt with but believes that abrupt sequester-style cuts could be devastating to the local and national economy. He'll be watching the next debates with these priorities in mind: "I feel passionate about health care, that's for sure. And the issues around the federal government spending, the DOD (Department of Defense), and how it affects our business. It is my lifeblood and my future."

There's no question that the specter of sequestration has cast a chill in this community. "My neighborhood is full of subcontractors and contractors that work for or in the federal government," Dyer says. "Some have already talked to their employees -- they have given notice that a storm could be coming, and they need to be prepared for layoffs."

Dyer's business partner is Katie Hammler, a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, an independent voter who also serves on the Leesburg Town Council

"This is going to be as serious a problem to our north Virginia region as the fallout of the car industry was to Detroit," Hammler says. "It will be small businesses like ours that are going to be hit the most. Two million jobs will be lost, half of which will be from small companies. We'll be hit earliest and hardest."

Hammler blames sequestration on congressional division and dysfunction: "It's as if there are certain factions within the parties who are setting things up where because of the pressure of the next primary, because of the pressure of the election, there's no incentive for compromise and collaboration to find meaningful solutions to complex problems."

There's plenty of blame to go around for both parties, but Hammler expresses special frustration with a particular group: "Those who oppose Obama have done everything in their power to ensure that he fails."

With sequestration as a final factor in this key swing county of Virginia, the tea party rhetoric of 2010 won't necessarily work on undecided swing voters such as Dyer. "People support the government here," he says. "They work for the mission of the government. Even as a contractor, you work to fulfill that mission."

News: With Ryan by his side, Romney rallies Virginians in debate victory lap

Virginians have a contrarian streak -- in recent decades they have voted for a governor from the opposite party as the president just elected. "Virginians are wary of too much government power in one party," says Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd. "They like the balance of power."

But while both parties might be to blame for the failed supercommittee resulting in the scheduled sequestration cuts, they can vote for only one president. The demographic changes in Virginia and comparatively strong economy might give Obama reason to believe that he can make history a second time by winning Virginia, but it is far from a sure thing in this traditionally conservative corner of the country.

To convince Dyer and other undecided swing voters in Loudoun County, the two candidates will need to present a balanced plan to avoid the blunt edge of sequestration cuts and a practical strategy for avoiding this kind of high-risk, hyper-partisan brinksmanship in the future. That's a final factor in winning this key swing district of this key swing state in the fight for the White House 2012.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT