Loudoun County, Virginia: A Culture War in Four Acts
A furious controversy in the richest county in America was about race, all right, but not in the way national media presented it. Part one of a series
Part One: “The Inconvenient Minority.”
November 2, 2021, Election night, town of Sterling, Loudoun County, Virginia. Thanks to a years-long media furor over what one former school official here described through a fatalistic laugh as “all the things,” this wealthy northern Virginia county is ground zero of the American culture war tonight. The nation’s most-watched race this evening is a fight for the Virginia governor’s office between a favored Democrat, longtime Bill and Hillary Clinton aide and oft-flummoxed oratorial liability Terry McAuliffe, and the Republican underdog, an aw-shucks private equity vampire turned earnest education advocate named Glenn Youngkin. The contest between the two will be decided at places like this little polling station, at Lowes Island Elementary School.
Democratic and Republican volunteers flank the school entrance, waving YOUNGKIN – GOVERNOR or MCAULIFFE AYALA HERRING signs while attempting to hand out sample ballots. Voters look in foul moods, meeting most of the pamphlet offers with road-rage stares or no-look, “talk to the hand” pleas for space, with one conspicuous exception. The fourth or fifth time I see the same thing happen, a Youngkin supporter standing nearby comments.
“See that?” whispers Raj Patel. “Another Indian who would never vote Republican before just took the Republican ballot.”
A tall, slim, dark-skinned man in a plain tan shirt and tan corduroy pants is indeed standing in the school entrance, examining a sample ballot pulled with two hands close to his face. He’s either nearsighted or really, really interested. Patel, whose father immigrated from India in the late fifties to work for Bechtel, indicates him with a nod and begins talking about the novel experience of standing in the crater of a smoldering national controversy.
“My sister lives in Pennsylvania. She says, ‘I'm watching the news and they're talking about Loudoun County!’ And I say, ‘Yeah, who’d have believed it?’ You know, that our county was going to be on national news over this issue.” He shakes his head. “You watch. Indian and Chinese immigrants who typically vote Democratic will vote the other way because education for children is their number one issue. It’s why they came here.”
Patel is one of the switchers. He was “pretty liberal” after graduating from UC-Berkeley many years ago, then steadily became more moderate in his views, which did not mean voting for Donald Trump. “Honestly, I voted for Hillary Clinton,” he says, clarifying that he’s for “common sense,” not being “right-wing” or conspiratorial, “none of that garbage.” Eventually, he returns to the subject of education. “When you start messing with schools, that’s when you’ll get typical Democrats to flip.”
Within a few hours, networks begin delivering the verdict: Youngkin, not long ago down ten points in the polls, is going to cruise to an upset win. Panic commences.