An hour or so before the preacher arrived Sunday afternoon, his choir already was in full voice.
Welcome to the grand opening of Terry McAuliffe’s Franconia-Springfield headquarters, where the faithful gathered at the Springfield Plaza shopping center to cheer on their man as the Democratic nominee for Virginia governor.
This is McAuliffe’s home turf, of course, and he had no shortage of supporters as the crowd grew larger and larger, eventually swelling to nearly 200.
The die-hards and the curious walked past a clothing store called Embroidme, past Relaxation Station, past Baldino’s Lock & Key, made a quick left at Veronica’s Bakery & Café and arrived at 6354A, where a sign-in table was out front and a plethora of signs, ribbons, gadgets, music and food was inside.
A two-man band played soft music with a guitar and an organ. Numerous aides and volunteers milled around the room, greeting guests, shaking hands and, for some, simply soaking in the scene.
Take, for example, 15-year-old intern Matthew Keitleman, whose reasons for volunteering for the campaign were simple.
“Well, I thought it would be a great way to get involved in the community and influence the election, and I had nothing else to do this summer,” he said. “It’s a good way to occupy your time, because you’re helping to make the politics in Richmond better by getting a better candidate elected.”
He’s a huge McAuliffe supporter, although “I didn’t even know his name until I got here.”
Fellow South County High School (Lorton) student Monique Sands, 17, recruited him. Her reasons for pitching in were simple: “One day I want to be involved in politics, and I wanted to get involved to get started. And I feel like the Democratic party is the best option for my family and my community.”
As the crowd grew larger, the room became warmer and warmer. But it was nothing like the heat being supplied outside the headquarters, where a guy in an orange suit (“a rich guy’s suit,” he said) was pretending to be McAuliffe.
“Hi! Come on in! I’ll promise you jobs but you’ll never see them!,” he shouted at passing motorists while two companions held signs with the slogans, “Green Tech Is a Wreck,” and “Tax Haven Terry.”
His real name is Brandon Patterson, 23, a volunteer for the Republican Party of Virginia. “Oh, they’ve been looking at us and honking at us and giving us support,” Patterson said with a wry grin before getting back to shouting. Standing beside him, also holding a derisive sign, was Ronald Wilcox, an organizer for the Northern Virginia Tea Party.
He disagreed that his message will be a tough sell in this reliably blue area.
“Well, I mean, I think that the people here don’t want out-of-control government,” Wilcox said. “I think Ken Cuccinelli’s message of lower taxes and limited regulation. Northern Virginia is the center of entrepreneur activity, and suffers greatly under regulatory burdens. So I think that message very much sells up here.”
Back inside, though, the dignitaries began to arrive.
Virginia U.S. Representative Jim Moran of the 8th District was on hand. So was Attorney General candidate Mark Herring. So was lieutenant governor candidate Ralph Northam. So was state delegate Mark Sickles.
And so was, more than likely, a representative from the Cuccinelli campaign, on hand simply to monitor the proceedings.
“With nearly 200 people there? Oh, yeah,” said Bret Wask, a national Democratic strategist. “I’d be shocked if they didn’t have somebody there watching.”
Finally, during a few words from headquarters chief Steve Meyers, Herring and Moran (“What is it, Ken Kookinelli?), the preacher slipped in through a back entrance and joined others on the makeshift stage to giddy applause.
“I am so honored to be here!,” Terry McAuliffe said to screams of approval before mentioning what he called his two running mates and taking a jab at Cuccinelli for distancing himself from the controversial GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, E.W. Jackson.
“We’re together almost every day, and it’s all three of us running together!,” he said. “Folks, we are a ticket. You don’t see too much of that on the other side but we are running as one ticket!”
From there, it was on to transportation and its importance to the region, and on and on and on.
The room suddenly was rocking and raucous with applause, frequently interrupting what basically was a standard McAuliffe stump speech with cheers.
The preacher was in fine form, and he was preaching to the choir.