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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is Robert Siegel with more on those places like Loudoun County, Virginia. We're talking about suburbs where the commutes are long, the schools are good, the housing prices are relatively low, and the political stakes are high.

Mr. RUY TEIXERA: There's no doubt that the party that controls the vote in the suburbs will control the politics of the country at this point. And these emerging suburbs is really where the action is.

SIEGEL: That's Ruy Teixera of the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress. By emerging suburbs, he means counties and communities that are growing very rapidly.

By one measure, nine percent of Americans live in counties like that, where new subdivisions spring up on old farmland and where newly arrived residents typically vote Republican.

Here's Republican strategist David Winston.

Mr. DAVID WINSTON (Republican Strategist): As they move out there, one of the challenges to the Republican party was, as they moved, to identify them and make sure that they stay engaged in the political process.

And it's a center-right group of people, but a different kind of center-right. They are what I would define as sort of solutionist center-right. They're making this move to deal with certain situations to improved the quality of their lifestyle, and so therefore they're looking to sort of solve certain things, to be able to live in the way they would like to.

So property taxes is a big deal. Quality of education is a big deal.

SIEGEL: Loudoun County, Virginia is the eighth fastest growing county in the country. It's home to a quarter of a million people. It's population back in 1990: 85,000.

Last year, the Democratic candidate for governor, Tim Kaine, made political history there. He carried Loudoun and neighboring Prince William County, places that hadn't gone Democratic in decades.

Ruy Teixera says the Democrats succeeded for a couple of reasons: they were smart and they actually tried to compete.

Mr. TEIXERA: The typical Democratic approach is let's go find the 65 percent Democratic precincts and...

SIEGEL: Let's make sure everybody there votes.

Mr. TEIXERA: Yeah, let's make sure they all vote. There ain't none.

SIEGEL: So they had to do more polling and modeling to find voters whom they could sway. In the past, Democrats counted on Virginia's cities and older suburbs. Exurbia, like rural Virginia, was Republican.

White House strategist Karl Rove had famously figured out that new arrivals to new communities with new churches were very likely Republicans. But Ruy Teixera says if you look at the census, the still newer arrivals are now more often single, minorities, and not so Republican.

Mr. TEIXERA: They're much more liberal than the people who have been there 10 or 15 years. They're much less conservative on social issues. They're much more open to government programs and healthcare and things like that. They're just different.

But if you never hear from the Democrats, you only hear from the Republicans, Karl Rove is right.

SIEGEL: Republican strategist David Winston and others have a more modest reading of last year's Democratic success in the outer Virginia suburbs. A weak Republican candidate ran heavily on capital punishment. Kaine, the victorious Democrat, ran on taxes and transportation.

Mr. WINSTON: And the question is, what did the Republican candidate do in response to that? Was it an ideological center-right response or was it a solution? And I think that some people felt that the response coming from the Republican candidate in that case was more of an ideological center-right response.

SIEGEL: We met with five Loudoun County residents, all members of the parent/teachers organization of Lowe's Island Elementary School in Sterling, Virginia. That's 30 miles from Washington, D.C.

They're all concerned about Iraq, the economy, and terrorism, but we wanted to hear about the special concerns of the booming outer suburb where they all now live.

Greg and Sarah Roper moved from Georgia, as did Dave Ledwell(ph). Kristen Rapp(ph), who grew up in Virginia, moved back from Illinois. And our host, Susan Clement Buckley(ph), moved out from a suburb closer to Washington, D.C. She talked about living in a place where the population grows by 10 percent every year.

Ms. SUSAN CLEMENT BUCKLEY (Virginia Resident): It's living in a place that is constantly changing, almost day to day. And the concerns begin with the quality of life. To most people, it means a good quality education for their children. It means the ability to travel around the county in a fair amount of time. Hence we all deal with traffic gridlock all the time. It means having - paying reasonable taxes and having good high-quality community services for our families to enjoy.

SIEGEL: You know, to people who may have been in Loudoun county 20, 30 years ago, the idea of gridlock in Loudoun County - it makes no sense. It might have been cow gridlock in Loudoun County 25 years ago. What - Greg, for you, what is special about life out here?

Mr. GREG ROPER (Virginia Resident): It's kind of hard for me to say because I haven't been in Loudoun County that long, so I haven't seen that much of a change in Loudoun County. I think it's just a great area. The schools seem to be extremely good. We've been in some areas where the schools were not nearly so good.

SIEGEL: But with so many people moving here and the population growth so rapid, there must be a demand for more classrooms and for more schools.

Ms. KRISTEN RAPP (Virginia Resident): Absolutely.

SIEGEL: Kristen?

Ms. RAPP: The school board seems to be making a pretty good effort at trying to figure out what their priorities are, recognizing this is something they'd like to do. But they just can't yet, because if they're building at a rate of, I think - how many school are we coming out with each year? Three to five?

Ms. BUCKLEY: There'll be - Susan Clement Buckley. There'll be five schools opened next year. I've read that there's as many as 23 schools that will need to be build within the next 10 years or so. It's definitely a big problem.

SIEGEL: Greg Roper, you were going to...

Mr. ROPER: I was going to ask Susan a question. You say they need 23 more schools. By the time those schools are build, is that to match the capacity then? Because I know what the road systems - in five years they're going to be down with road projects to get us to the level of traffic we're at now. They are not planning for, you know, more people moving in, at least they're not building for it.

SIEGEL: Well, to compare what you've said so far with what - with what the experts say, boy, you know, education - big concern in a community like this, transportation, big concern in a community like this, and were told you're all very concerned about your real estate taxes.

Mr. WINSTON: Absolutely.

SIEGEL: Yes?

Mr. DAVE LEDWELL (Virginia Resident): Don't get me started. Don't get me started!

SIEGEL: Dave?

Mr. LEDWELL: Well, since we moved here, in dollar terms our real estate taxes have doubled. Why is it that it can't be set up that when homes are built that they must be self-sustaining from an infrastructure point of view. I don't understand why that can't be.

Ms. ROPER: Yeah, I - Sara Roper. I kind of wonder about that. It's like, I think that if we try to stem this tide of growth, we're just putting a finger in the dike, and eventually the whole thing is going to come down on us, and it's going to happen. So you know, is our government looking at ways that if they're going to have this growth, to do it reasonably, to preserve trees, to preserve areas of parkland, to provide the infrastructure of streets and schools. And gosh, how do I make sure that my government is out there doing that?

SIEGEL: Do any or all of you have strong feelings about the Webb/Allen race? Kristen?

Ms. RAPP: I thought you would ask some questions about this. So I went to the tow different Web sites, and I thought that was - that was actually very helpful, because if a politician or a candidate talks about what they've done, what they can do, that that's one of the big deciding factors for me. And when I went to George Allen's site, it was very clear about these are my issues. And so that was really nice to see his plan, and that's what's so hard to pick apart and figure out in the media when everybody sort of seems so consumed with all this talk about these slurs and, you know, it's tough. So the Web sites are actually very helpful.

SIEGEL: And based on them, you'd be leaning toward Senator Allen, the incumbent?

Ms. RAPP: I would, exactly. And I was disappointed in Webb because it seemed like he really touted himself as a fighter, and I don't really know that that's who I want in the Senate. I don't want somebody fighting. I want somebody working together and showing leaderships.

SIEGEL: Dave? Made up your mind already?

Mr. LEDWELL: I have. And I'll tell you that Webb's in this race because people are so unhappy with federal government at all, in all its pieces. George Allen should be having a fairly easy time with this and he's not. I'll cast my vote against the present administration, and unfortunately he's a part of that.

SIEGEL: Dave Ledwell, like Greg and Sara Roper, Kristen Rapp and Susan Clement Buckley, he is a voter in Loudoun County, home to many of the emerging suburbs that are political battlegrounds this year in Virginia.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And for analysis on other key battlegrounds in this year's elections, you can go to our Web site, NPR.org. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED continues in a moment.

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