Gov. Mark Warner may have accomplished more than raised a few bucks for services for Virginians. He might have also made their vote count.

Sen. John Kerry’s campaign announced it is buying TV ads in the Old Dominion. No word on how much he’ll spend, but that he is spending a dime is a surprise to some. Bush won the state by 8 points in 2000.

But since then Warner, a Democrat, has not only passed a major tax increase, he’s done it with a 2-1 Republican majority in both houses of the General Assembly. A grassroots campaign that saw hundreds of people at each of dozens of public meetings throughout the state plead for more funding for education and social and medical services helped turn the tide – or at least 17 Republican House delegates to vote for a sales tax increase and other taxes that will raise $1.6 billion in new revenue over the next biennium. Indeed, his major ally was the Republican Senate Majority Leader John Chichester.

But there have been other changes since 2000. Fairfax County is home to one of every seven voters in Virginia, a candidate for statewide office told me today. The county elected a solid Democratic county board of supervisors in 2003. Every candidate who had signed a no-tax pledge in the county lost.

Fairfax, widely recognized as one of the most attractive places to live in the county due in part to its school system, also enjoys low unemployment because of the plethora of government business. Neighboring Loudoun County, the fastest growing county in the nation, is more of a mix bag politically, voting for county officials who sought to control growth four years ago only to see most of them lose to Republicans in the ’03 elections. The inner suburbs of Alexandria and Arlington are solidly Democratic.

Richmond and the coastal Tidewater areas are also experiencing “big city” issues and have been sympathetic to some Democratic candidates. The presumptive Democratic candidate for governor in the ’05 election is Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, a former Richmond mayor. And word is moderate Republicans in the Tidewater area are contemplating primary challenges to the conservatives that fought the tax increases. The Republican treasurer of Virginia Beach even went so far as to put an ad in the local paper seeking moderate Republicans to run.

Kerry may also have put the Southern portions of the state in play by favoring a tobacco quota buyout sought by many tobacco farmers. Bush has said he’s not in favor of it. Also rural Virginians are feeling the effects of the recession. Many of their jobs are the kind that are going overseas (textiles) or dying a slow death (tobacco).

Meanwhile, of course, Bush has screwed up most everything he’s touched, so there is more fertile ground than once thought.

Kerry has also run ads in Colorado and Louisiana, two states in which he wasn’t expected to compete. But he must know something — or perhaps just have some Commonwealth Commonsense. The Bush campaign immediately bought ads in those states to counter Kerry’s. No word on whether Bush plans to run ads in Virginia.

Overall, money is not the unbalanced issue it once was.

Separately, the Media Fund, a Democratic interest group that has spent more than $20 million on anti-Bush ads this year, announced a $1.5 million donation to the New Democratic Network, which represents party centrists, for its ads. The network has spent more than $1 million of TV ads in those four states touting the Democratic agenda and criticizing Bush.
By the end of June, Kerry will have spent at least $60 million on TV ads since March.

Bush’s latest buys — $3.5 million over 12 days to run a new ad assailing Kerry in 18 states and $2.5 million to advertise on national cable networks in June — means the president will have spent at least $75 million during the same period.