Over the past 50 years, with only two exceptions, whoever Loudoun voted for became governor of Virginia.

It is a trend that is reflected in races at both the state and federal level: as goes Loudoun—and other exurbs like Prince William County or Henrico County—so goes the state. And while cities and large counties like Fairfax are often talked about as the Democratic strongholds, in recent history, it was when the exurbs voted Democrat that Virginia flipped blue.

Loudoun and Prince William first voted blue for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, and that was the first time Virginia at large picked the Democrat since voting for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Virginia has voted blue in every presidential election since 2008.

When Democrat Jennifer Wexton in 2018 flipped 10th Congressional District, a longtime Republican stronghold, it was part of seizing a majority in the House of Representatives from Republicans who had held it since 2011. At the election night party, former governor Terry McAuliffe declared “we are a blue state today, folks.”

And when Loudoun flipped the county board majority to Democrat in 2019, it also helped hand the 13th State Senate District to a Democrat, John Bell, for the first time since Republican Frederick M. Quayle took the district in 1991, along with winning control of the state senate for the first time since the 2007 election. That was also part of Democrats seizing control of both state chambers.

This November, Loudouners will again answer the question: is the county still a battleground? Election results show a steady trend, favoring Democrats more strongly each year, but statewide polling going into early voting shows a tight race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

“I tell people all the time: there’s not been a more dramatic political turnaround in the United States than Virginia in the last 20 years,” said U.S. Senator and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine. “And the heart of that turnaround is Loudoun and Prince William, and Henrico and Chesterfield, and then down in Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Chesapeake. Because these were all jurisdictions that were very Republican, who now are quite willing to vote for Democrats in statewide races, and that turnaround has been the key to the Virginia turnaround.”

That is also probably why Loudouners have become accustomed to campaign stops from candidates for both governor and president. Already in the 2021 race for governor, McAuliffe has been to Loudoun twice and Youngkin three times, once during the primary. Youngkin unveiled his academic plan at an event outside the Loudoun County Public Schools administration building, and the campaign said they've hosted more than 15 events in Loudoun, Prince William, and surrounding areas.

"Glenn knows exurban Virginians are demanding excellent schools, low cost of living, safe communities, and a thriving economy. That's why Glenn laid out a Day One plan with comprehensive measures to immediately cut costs for Virginians, restore academic excellence, make government work for the people again, and reinvigorate job growth," stated Younkin's press secretary Macaulay Porter." The Washington Post says Glenn is winning in exurban communities because his message addresses the concerns of exurban voters, and he's continually engaging with these communities and understands the critical role they will play in securing victory in November."

Meanwhile McAuliffe's campaign touted his endorsement by Loudoun County elected and civic leaders.

"Terry is focused on engaging voters across the Commonwealth about the issues they care most about—defeating COVID, creating good jobs, making health care more affordable, and giving every child a world-class education. Terry is proud to have been endorsed by an overwhelming number of Loudoun County leaders from both parties, and he will continue to campaign in Loudoun and across Virginia in the remaining weeks of this race," stated Renzo Olivari of the McAuliffe campaign. "Trump-endorsed Glenn Youngkin has focused his campaign on divisive priorities that are wrong for Virginia: election conspiracy theories, banning abortion, and defunding education and police."

In regards to digital targeting and spending, we have spent nearly 250,000 dollars on digital ads in Loudoun and surrounding communities.

Consultant, professor and former Republican state delegate David Ramadan said a place like Loudoun isn’t important just for its votes—it’s also important as a test market for messaging.

“In a year like this, when you’re talking about a gubernatorial campaign, when you know that the turnout is going to be lower than a presidential campaign, it really becomes a game of turnout of the base,” Ramadan said. “And in order to test the base and make sure what is going to turn out the base, you’ve really got to test these counties like Prince William, like Loudoun County, and work on issues that are exciting the base at that time. … They’re bellwether counties.”

Kaine said the Democratic wave in Loudoun has also been the result of candidates campaigning in places previously thought unwinnable—a strategy still reflected in today’s run-everywhere campaigns.

“When I won Loudoun when I ran for governor in ’05, I think the last Democrat to win Loudoun in governor’s race had been 20 years before,” Kaine said. “And that had convinced some candidates, ‘oh, it’s probably not worth spending all the time.’ You have to invest and spend the time, and then when you have the chance, you have a to govern in a way that people say, ‘oh, well I’m glad we took a chance on that guy.’”

Loudoun’s blue turn and importance in elections have also been reflective of Loudoun’s meteoric growth in population. Before picking Kaine, the last Democrat Loudoun voted for in the governor’s race of Doug Wilder, in 1989, in a year when Loudoun had only 21,645 votes to give. In the most recent 2017 gubernatorial election, Loudoun cast more than four times that many votes, 117,486. And in the 2020 election, Loudoun cast roughly twice as many votes as that, 224,862.

Loudoun may not be up for grabs for a Republican, Ramadan said, but the question is how many votes a candidate add to their statewide count.

“It will turn out to be Democratic county, but the question is going to be who turns out more, how excited is the base,” he said.

But Ramadan, a staunch Republican who crossed the aisle to endorse McAuliffe after being chased out of the party by conspiracy theories about election fraud, said he doubts the spurious Critical Race Theory allegations on the right would sway the general public.

“This is not a general campaign issue. It is purely a red meat issue that they’re trying to use to get excitement in an off-year election, but it’s not an important issue to the populace.” Stand out front of a grocery store in his old district, he said, and people will talk about things like vaccines, getting their kids safely in-person in school, and traffic.

Loudoun’s streak of presidential candidate visits began in 2008, when Obama hosted the largest political rally in county history at Ida Lee Park.

“I was really close to that campaign, and I told then-Sen. Obama, ‘look, you can win Virginia, but it's going to be the Loudouns and Prince Williams that are going to be important,’” Kaine recalled. 

Every major party candidate for president since has been to Loudoun, except John McCain—and the McCain campaign sent the candidate for vice president, Sarah Palin. Donald Trump also passed on visiting Loudoun during his 2020 reelection bid, although he made two stops here during his successful 2016 run. When Kaine was a candidate for vice president in 2016 under Hilary Clinton they, too, campaigned in Loudoun.

Obama concluded his 2008 campaign with a massive rally in Manassas, the day before winning the first of two terms in the presidency.

“He understood that this part of the state is the battleground of the battleground, or the key to the battleground,” Kaine said.

This article was updated Sept. 24 at 3:17 p.m. with comment from the McAuliffe campaign.

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