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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 14:03 GMT
Elections come to Culpeper
The BBC's Matt Frei returns to Culpeper to speak to residents on the eve of the Virginia primary.


About 80 miles south-west of Washington DC, where the Shenandoah mountains crawl along the horizon and where the rich soil of Virginia is soaked with the blood and tears of America's turbulent history, is a town called Culpeper.

We've been following a group of residents from Culpeper in order to get an insight into the issues that will decide who becomes next president of the United States.

This time we hear from them how they are preparing to vote - or not vote, as the case may be.


Cathi, the mother of a young boy and wife to a truck driver who is frequently away, is an independent voter.

Cathi Buchanan with husband Patrick and son Robert
She feels that the candidates of both parties have done too little to address the concerns of independents - who will form an important constituency in the general election.

"I feel that the candidates are leaving not just the Independents but a good portion of the country out of the discussions, out of the appeals.

"There is such a focus on appealing to the fringe element, whether it be left fringe or right fringe. There's such a focus on appealing to the fringe element that you're losing the middle ground."


Doug, 51, is a dairy farmer whose family has lived in the Culpeper area since the mid-1800s. He is married with four children, two of them in college.

He favours John McCain.

Doug Mayhugh
And yet, he would not say he is altogether happy.

"The man has definitely paid his dues to service in this country... He's been a prisoner of war in Vietnam, serving in the US Senate for a number of years. He's respected in a lot of circles.

"Now, the ones that don't respect him, that's their business so I don't know how to really judge that. But I'm happy for him, I'm glad he is the front-runner right now."

He believes the US will have a presence in Iraq "for a long time", in line with Mr McCain's recent comment that US forces could still be there in a century's time.

I firmly believe we are going to be here in that region of the world (Iraq) for a long, long time
"I just don't see how we can yank everybody out of there and bring them home. I know (Hillary Clinton) is set up for nine-month appointments so we kind of know the ins and outs of that and what happens as far as US policy.

"I firmly believe we are going to be here in that region of the world for a long, long time. So if John McCain wants to keep us over there, I think that's just the way it's going to have to be. I just don't think we can ignore that and pull them out.

"It has settled down a lot. I think we are going in the right direction, we've just got to see it through."


Betsy says people in Virginia seem to feel that this election is an important one, possibly more important than those in earlier years.

Betsy Smith

Analysts say the state could back either party in November, but Betsy says it's becoming more Democratic, particularly in the north. However, she believes Culpeper has not changed that much and remains about even split between the two parties, with a lot of undecided voters too.

She sympathises with the Republican Party, but finds herself in two minds about John McCain, the current front-runner.

"There are things I like and don't like about him. What I like about him is he's strong, he's not wishy-washy on where he stands and he's not afraid to make a stand. I like his military background.

"The war is not talked about as much right now, but I think it's still very important that we don't make up our mind whether we are staying or leaving but that we do what is best as it develops, and it takes a military mind, or a strong person, to allow it to develop... and not to leave just because people want us to.

"He's not quite as conservative as I would like. I haven't heard how he stands on some of those values that we consider religious values or moral values.

"I like the fact that he can work with Democrats and Republicans - I think that's really crucial. We have Democrats and Republicans in Congress, whether we want them there or not we have both sides, and we need to be able to work with both sides."

I think the values are extremely important. I have learned in my own life, when I honour God and follow his directions, I'm a lot more successful

Betsy says she would probably favour Mike Huckabee over Mr McCain however, in a straight choice between the two.

"I could see Huckabee and John McCain running together - I don't know if they will but I could feel good about that. I like Huckabee's values and what he stands for, so I would definitely support him. I'm not against McCain: if he were the presidential candidate, I would be voting for him."

Mr Huckabee, an ordained former Baptist preacher, is generally seen as more socially conservative than Mr McCain, something that appeals to Betsy.

"I think the values are extremely important. I have learned in my own life, when I honour God and follow his directions, I'm a lot more successful - and when I don't, when I lean on my own understanding, I mess up. So I like someone's values who seeks God's guidance. I think that's important, especially for a country."

Betsy does not like Hillary Clinton in part because of the way she conducted herself during the impeachment row over her husband's involvement with Monica Lewinsky. "When it came out that he really did do those things, she wouldn't talk about it at all. I just don't think they were good for our country, either one of them."

She is also suspicious of Mr Obama because he spent some years growing up in a Muslim country as a child.


Born and raised in Culpeper, Louise has been cutting the hair of the town's residents for four decades.

Her salon is several blocks from the main strip, in a less affluent area of town.

Louise Roberts

Louise is supporting Barack Obama in Tuesday's primary - and says it is crucial to do so because "this is going to go down in history if he becomes president - and even if he don't, it's still history because at least he was trying".

"It's real exciting and I think he's a smart man and he knows what he's doing. He's a good speaker - I just love to hear him and he says good words that will make anybody want to vote for him. He's a dynamite speaker.

"I think he can get just as much done as a white person can... because a lot of times you put African-Americans in jobs where white people are and they are surprised by the way black people handle their jobs.

"Obama is not perfect, he's not expert on everything, so that's why you have got people who will be in office with him. They have got to work together, got to pull together. Everything we do, it's like a marriage."

They are going to kill him and it's a bad thing to have him become president and lose his life.

She is, however, concerned that if elected as America's first black president, he would face a serious danger of assassination.

"They are going to kill him and it's a bad thing to have him become president and lose his life. Everybody knows it (it will happen), everybody is saying the same thing. I hope and pray not, but there's nothing that's convincing me that it will not happen."

Louise says many African-American voters face "a very difficult choice" between Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton because they like what the former represents - but they also have fond memories of Bill Clinton's presidency and what they feel he did for them.

However, she disapproves of Mr Clinton's role in campaigning for Hillary Clinton, particularly the row that was sparked in South Carolina over remarks concerning race.

"I think he messed her up because he got on TV saying some things he shouldn't have been saying...

"He should've been quiet because if she is woman enough to be president, then she's woman enough to take care of her own business - and I don't think he should have input in it. He messed her relationship up with a lot of people."


While the Republicans look to have their candidate, the Democrats are still facing a difficult choice.

Throughout the election we will continue to take the pulse of Culpeper and keep you posted along the way.

Watch the latest film from Culpeper on Newsnight and on BBC World News America at 000GMT (1900 ET / 1600 PT).

Select from the list below to view state level results.

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