No this time

Northern Virginia's newly wealthy tech belt didn't provide the bounce McCain needed to overcome Bush's entrenched power in Tuesday's primary.

Published March 1, 2000 3:30PM (EST)

Though it is thought to be a stronghold of moderates and independents, Northern Virginia did not deliver the upset victory John McCain was hoping for in that state's primary Tuesday.

The George W. Bush campaign can take a big share of the credit for neutralizing any advantage McCain might have enjoyed in the region. Many Northern Virginia Republicans interviewed by Salon Tuesday quoted the "He says one thing and does another" line that Bush has tagged the senator with for weeks. Bush voters also said that McCain couldn't be trusted and that he flip-flopped on the issues -- both staples of the Bush campaign's anti-McCain arsenal.

Other voters interviewed as they left the polls Tuesday said the senator didn't have the temperament to lead. "I think he has a shorter fuse," said one Bush voter who nonetheless praised McCain for his patriotism. "If we got into a conflict with a foreign power, I think he'd be quicker to pull the trigger."

Another obstacle to McCain's Northern Virginia campaign was his controversial speech denouncing conservative Christian leader Pat Robertson. While the attack did draw some Democrats and moderate Republicans to McCain's cause, it also brought out people to the polls who were angered by the remarks.

"I thought it was a cheap shot," said one former Perot voter. "I consider myself a Christian conservative, and I didn't like it one bit."

McCain also had to contend with some bad memories among Northern Virginia voters. In 1998 as Senate Commerce Committee chairman, he temporarily blocked $211 million in funding for projects at both of Virginia's airports, Dulles and Reagan National. He sought to add several flights to National, the airport most convenient to Washington, over the objections of Northern Virginia residents concerned about the noise level.

The senator's publicly stated reason for the move was to foster competition between the airports; however, the long trek to Dulles is an inconvenience to frequent flyers like McCain. When Congress didn't let McCain have his way, the senator blocked appointments to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, thus leaving the funds in limbo for a while.

At the time, the Washington Post quoted Rep. Tom Davis as saying "I'm really disappointed in Sen. McCain." Davis represents Virginia's 11th Congressional District, a northern region heavy with moderate Republicans newly rich from its burgeoning tech industries. To many area citizens, McCain's actions were high-handed and petty, and that reputation may have caught up with the senator on Tuesday.

Northern Virginia would also be disproportionately affected by campaign finance reform, McCain's pet issue. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Virginia ranks fourth among all states in the soft-money contributions that McCain would do away with, and all of the top 10 money-giving ZIP codes within Virginia are located in Northern Virginia. Regional technology companies, newcomers in the influence-buying game, would have a lot to lose in a McCain presidency.

Last week, McCain had just begun to fight in Northern Virginia. Unfortunately, he started losing there years ago.

By Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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Campaign Finance George W. Bush John Mccain R-ariz. Republican Party