FRONT ROYAL, Va. - Wanda Snead wants the same thing for her family, her community and her country: "Someone who will take charge of this mess that is happening in our economy and get the country moving again."
Snead, 56, and her husband, Sam, 64, run a real estate company in this charming
Northern Virginia town at the base of Shenandoah National Park, where majestic
Skyline Drive meanders down to North Carolina.
They have owned the company for more than 30 years. In 2009 they had ten agents and two offices; today they have three agents and one office.
"We are very fortunate and blessed to be able to keep our doors open still, but it has been a struggle," she said. Housing keeps America's economy going, she said, and "Obama has clearly never understood that."
Snead and her husband are not fanatical Republicans. They are independent voters
who, for the first time, have a political sign in front of their business along John Marshall Highway, which runs through the center of town.
The large cardboard Romney-Ryan sign waves in the wind as cars filled with urban
Virginians and Washingtonians enter the national park, known for its cascading
waterfalls, spectacular vistas, hikes on the Appalachian Trail, primitive camping, rustic lodges and steep climbs for cyclists on weekend escapes.
"I do most of the property management for our business, taking care of the rental properties," she explained. "That has been the toughest part to watch. It seems like every week I have people who are losing their jobs and saying, 'I can't pay the rent.' "
Things like that don't just impact the person who lost a job, she said. "It impacts my livelihood, theirs, the grocery store down the street, the shops in and around town, the tax base, the schools - the entire soul of the community.
"In my younger days I used to work in factories where we made things. I have been an employee and I have been a boss, so I completely understand who Mitt Romney is and what he can do for the country."
Armando Torres, 53, a Democrat from Bristow in suburban Northern Virginia, is a
master electrician and engineer; he also owns a small property-management business.
"We have just been devastated, not only in this economy but in the decisions we have to make for our future," he said.
Torres works as an electrical engineer during the day, then runs his own business after punching out. He worries about his employees every minute of every day: "It's gotten to the point where I am not bringing in enough to make payroll, which means I am either laying people off or borrowing money."
He and his wife, Kim, said Romney has their full support in November.
"It is vital that he wins," Torres said emphatically.
In 2008, Northern Virginia made up about a third of the vote for president in
Virginia, and Barack Obama rolled to a 59-41 margin there, according to Kyle Kondik, a University of Virginia political analyst.
"Virginia's three main urban areas - Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Greater Richmond - made up 70 percent of the vote in 2008, and Obama won all three areas," Kondik explained.
Romney could flip Greater Richmond, but he needs to hold down Obama's margins
Democrats and independents such as the Sneads and the Torreses in Northern Virginia could easily cut into Obama's support.
Travel south on U.S. 220, no visible support exists for Obama or for Tim Kaine,
seeking Virginia's open U.S. Senate seat against Republican George Allen. But signs for Allen and Romney are everywhere.
On one large sign touting this as "Obama, Kaine and Douglas country" - referring to John Douglas, a conservative Democrat running for Congress - the names of Obama and Kaine are covered by duct tape.
The 30 percent of Virginians living in more-rural areas will support Romney by big margins, but he faces demographic challenges elsewhere, Kondik predicts.
"Virginia doesn't have nearly the same amount of non-college-educated whites as some other battlegrounds, like Ohio," he said. "That's the group where Obama has seen a lot of erosion in support."
And that, he thinks, makes Virginia "basically a coin flip right now."
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter