If McAuliffe, a former governor who wants his old job back, loses in this state that President Biden won by 10 points a year ago – and that looks like a definite possibility – the common shrug of Crestwood Drive will become a loser Be an indication of what happened. The history of an increasingly larger and more diverse state can be partially understood through the history of a small suburban block.
That’s because this section of Crestwood Drive isn’t just any block. One of the houses is owned by former acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf of the Trump administration. A year ago, his disapproving neighbors set the street on fire in a brightly colored demonstration of progressive activism. Many houses were adorned with several large signs – for Joe Biden, for Black Lives Matter, and for a variety of liberal causes.
There was a community parade and rally outside Wolf’s house to protest Trump and Homeland Security efforts to quell the riots in Portland, Oregon. Political street theater in a neighborhood usually more concerned with elementary school theater was new enough to trigger a story in the Washington Post (Not an easy task given the Post’s exhausted and generally inattentive metro coverage).
Twelve months later, there is little evidence that McAuliffe’s attempt to revive the excited emotions of 2020 and cast Youngkin as Donald Trump’s deputy is working. What is evident is that many residents are feeling drained and ready to return to a time when politics wasn’t everything.
“Everyone has exhausted themselves with the presidential election. And I think there was such a fear that Trump would be re-elected that if thank god he wasn’t, people tend to [say] “This crisis has been averted. I can go back to other priorities in my life, ‘”said Tony Sanchez, a 57-year-old Democrat who works for an armaments company.
Crestwood Drive hasn’t returned to Pleasantville. A combination of politics and a pandemic, say some local residents, means that the neighbors still don’t feel particularly neighborly. A celebratory block party that has an annual tradition – one the Wolf family helped plan – hasn’t been revived, and at least some people say they’re not in the mood for much.
Let’s clarify the limits of anecdotal reporting. There is nothing scientific about a few days of knocking on the door in a neighborhood that Democrats always bear lightly. But the calm mood on Crestwood agrees with other evidence that explains why Democrats are concerned.
National polls show that McAuliffe’s lead has shrunk to a statistical tie. The Democrat has alleged that Biden’s declining support in the state, as well as the partisan war in Washington, is creating headwinds for him, and recently admonished the leaders of both parties to “summarize their action.” The fact that Republicans have not won a statewide election since 2009 may have led to an exaggerated perception that a historically center-right Old Dominion is now reliably democratic. This year’s gubernatorial competition suggests that Virginia will remain a competitive purple state.
Of course, no one would put Alexandria on their list of swing districts. It is a democratic stronghold that Biden won in 2020 with 80 percent of the vote. A year ago there were only Trump signs here of people making a confidently defiant statement aimed at offending liberal piety. However, this year many people clearly feel they can safely express public support for a Republican without starting a neighborhood argument.
“You see a lot of Youngkin signs,” said Holly Ford, who has lived on the block for a quarter of a century. “I think there are a lot of silent voters who won’t vote for him, but you can’t see the signs in the courtyard [for McAuliffe] because I think Democrats tend to be more reluctant “- especially compared to last year.
The block of 20 solid, attractive but barely opulent homes in Crestwood between Valley Drive and Kenwood Avenue is three miles from the famous Old Town on the Potomac River. It looks like a pedestrian street and indeed – the kind of place where families with kids and dogs stroll to a nearby little place for pizza or ice cream.
But it also illustrates how in Washington’s inner suburbs even seemingly extraordinary neighborhoods are steeped in historical and contemporary politics. The block is just a few hundred yards from Parkfairfax, a WWII-era building where former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford rented apartments as young congressmen in the 1940s. In addition to connecting to Chad Wolf, this block of Crestwood is adjacent to the Temple of Agudus Achim, where the former Chicago mayor and Obama’s chief of staff sometimes worshiped Rahm Emanuel. A few weeks ago, McAuliffe himself was at the nearby home of veteran Democrat JB Poersch for a fundraiser with the famous Clinton-era James Carville, whose now-grown children were attending a neighborhood private school.
In short, it’s the kind of place where people pay quite a bit of attention to the elections.
Most people understand the basic bets McAuliffe and Youngkin place in their respective strategies.
For Youngkin, a wealthy private equity manager, it is that he can put together a coalition of parts. One group is voters who do not want to vote democratically and think the candidate looks like a Virginia version of Mitt Romney, one who undoubtedly privately despises Trump as much as they do. The other is a group of voters who like Trump who think Youngkin looks like Kevin McCarthy – they don’t care what he thinks in private as long as he doesn’t publicly break up with the ex-president.
Sanchez said he was concerned about what Youngkins’ obviously insincere contortions might actually work for. “I don’t know if Youngkin is perceived as as big an evil as Trump,” he said. “He’s a Trump fan and a disgusting person. But I don’t think people see him as as much of a threat as Trump, so there can be a bit of apathy. “
Sanchez himself likes to shed some light on the trend. A year ago, someone called the police about his family because his “Biden for President” sign was too big and was against city law. His solution was to cut up the sign and display the pieces less than an inch apart. It was also lit at night.
This year a McAuliffe sign in the front yard is dwarfed by a spooky Halloween graveyard.
For McAuliffe’s part, his strategic bet is all about voter turnout: the lower it is, the more problems he has. In the last few days he has called Biden, former President Barack Obama and Georgia political star Stacey Abrams into the state, all of whom are trying to latently awaken blocks of people who are progressive, but not necessarily voting in non-presidential elections.
“We usually flirt with a 50% turnout in a gubernatorial election and an 80% turnout in a federal election,” said Justin Wilson, the Democratic mayor of Alexandria, who is running for re-election in that election. “And the question is, whether or not the Democrats win, it’s about how many of those voters between their 50s and 80s run in Northern Virginia.”
As for the political trauma of Crestwood Drive, where no one opened the door to Wolf’s house during the last two days of interviews on his block, the question is when will the Trump-era bruises finally fade.
“Not just because of Covid, but the protests and everything else really shook neighborhood relations,” said a long-time resident, a government pensioner who preferred not to be publicly identified. “Some people are still friendly, others are far less friendly than they used to be. Some people were downright angry on both sides of the problem. “