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Election 2012: Battleground Report

50-Plus Voters and Social Issues

Virginians focus on the politics of abortion, birth control and gay marriage

Mary Howald, a 56-year-old homemaker with seven children, said women should have access to contraception — but when a child is on the way, the situation changes. "A woman should have the right to have sex, and she has the right to get pregnant," said Howald, who is from Ivor. "But once you get pregnant, you have a responsibility to someone else."

In the other country — Northern Virginia — over-50 voters see things quite differently.

Celebrating another Southern tradition, shag dancing, older voters shook their heads at what they saw as a retrenchment of matters they thought were settled law and social policy. Sipping beer and grabbing fellow locals' hands for the old-fashioned dance, the mainly older crowd on the cozy basement dance floor at Icons in Fairfax said they weren't happy with the conservative turn in the state legislature. (After the midterm elections in 2010, the GOP took control of the state Senate and expanded its control of the House of Delegates.)

"I'm concerned about a lot of women's issues. I think we're going backwards on individual choice," said Oakton resident Beverly Larson, 64, a contractor for the Department of Defense.

"They shouldn't do that — no sonograms," said Sandra Traylor, 67, of Fairfax, a retired Defense Department employee, referring to the new law. "I lived through this in the '60s," she added, saying she hadn't expected to have a legislative battle over it again.

At both uniquely Southern fetes, voters voiced a concern for nuts-and-bolts economic issues and railed against what they saw as a dysfunctional Congress. But with the attention to Virginia's abortion laws and conservative governor and legislature, such social issues will highlight Virginia's cultural divide and make the state a complicated place for the presidential candidates, Sabato said. "Virginia used to be a Southern state. Now, it's a Mid-Atlantic state," he explained, largely because of demographic upheaval in increasingly Democratic Northern Virginia.

It's anyone's guess how it will all play out. "Virginia, unlike a lot of other states, is prosperous," Sabato said. "When you've got [a lower] unemployment rate, it's natural [for voters and politicians] to focus on other issues — because they can."

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