Illustration by Shawn Yu
Let me tell you a story about a woman we all know. Brilliant and beautiful, she was nonetheless overlooked by powerful men. She was so loyal to her man that no one else looked in her direction, not even her own guy, who took her for granted. She was forgotten. But in 2008, she started putting out signals that told the world, "I'm available."
And suddenly, Virginia was the belle of the ball.
When Virginia decided to wear blue and go to the dance with the suave young senator from Illinois instead of dusting off her well-worn red dress and dancing with the crotchety old senator from Arizona, everything changed.
Yes, there was a time in our not-too-distant past when many of us lamented the fact that Virginia was simply irrelevant in presidential politics. Virginia, having gone for Democratic presidential candidates only twice since World War II, was a dependably Republican state. No Democrat bothered to woo us. No Republican bothered to fight for us. Through election after election, we stood on the sidelines watching so many other states have all the fun — basking in the bright lights, rolling around in the mud. The tide turned in 2008, though, when Virginia went for Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain, and then on the heels of that — just to be coy or contrary, as Virginia is wont to do — elected a Republican governor and a Tea Party darling of an attorney general.
All of this flirtatiousness with both parties has gotten Virginia a reputation, and now she is one of the nine most sought-after states for crucial swing voters. Tens of millions of campaign dollars are pouring into the commonwealth to woo the votes of whomever those people are who haven't made up their minds already. And that has meant a nonstop flurry of candidate visits, TV attack ads and robocalls.
So, are we having fun yet?
Find me a Virginian who isn't sick of it. Find me a Virginian who doesn't sit with the remote in his hand ready to flip the channel from a Mitt Romney or President Obama ad to something more civilized and palatable, like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Find me a Virginian whose mind isn't made up anyway.
I know that in my house, for example, we were over it by the Summer Olympics. If my kids saw one more grainy, black-and-white commercial accusing one or the other guy of being the worst human being who ever lived, I was sure a size-4 Nike was going through the TV. When I hear of a candidate visiting the Richmond area, I note the time and location precisely, simply so I can avoid the traffic. As for robocalls, I can't attest to their annoyance because I stopped answering my phone way back in the primaries, unless I recognized the number.
Caller ID: Best. Invention. Ever.
And for the first time in my adult life, I am engaging in an ongoing debate about whether to even watch a presidential debate. I have checked out. My mind, like most of Virginia's, is made up. But somewhere in the recesses of her psyche, let's say Henrico County, she is still swayable. Yes, even that once unshakable Republican stronghold, becoming increasingly diverse ethnically and socio-economically, is in play.
Sensing Virginia's ambivalence, her two suitors are, as your grandmother would say, coming on strong. One of them dangles the job of vice president in front of her big brother (but snatches it away). The other guy, who tried that same maneuver four years ago, woos her with more than a dozen visits in just more than a year. They are using every ounce of their charm, sweet talk and guile to get Virginia to say yes to one of them.
Will she choose the impossibly chiseled, superhero-handsome gazillionaire or the smooth talker with the sexy smile who will softly croon Al Green into her ear? Whichever dress she chooses, the red or the blue, she'd better keep the other one clean and pressed, because before you know it, the suitors will be back on her doorstep.