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The iconography of victory, the architecture of defeat: The intended symbolism of post-election speeches.



Jim Webb's hair-splitting win that swung the U.S. Senate to the Democrats and Sen. George Allen's defeat have been discussed, analyzed and rehashed since Election Day, Nov. 7. But the aesthetics and symbolism of the venues of the respective victory and concession appearances received little mention.

The iconography of the final public performances of Virginia's contentious 2006 Senate campaign reveals that Webb's appearance to declare victory Thursday, Nov. 9, reflected the state's changing electoral landscape, while Allen's setting was old school and perhaps vainglorious.

Late afternoon Nov. 9, after the vote had been confirmed, MSNBC reported live as the winner and loser addressed supporters and the media at separate locales in Northern Virginia.

TV cameras captured Webb basking in cheers while standing in front of an undistinguished, if not dreary, contemporary building. A myriad of balconies suggested it was residential. Its overall form encircled the scene and obscured the sky. There was nothing particularly "Virginian" about the generic setting. What was equally foreign was the sight of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), actually south of the Potomac, standing side-by-side with a successful Virginia politician. Conservatives would have one believe Schumer is just a rung away from Ted Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton on the liberal boogey-person ladder. Localizing the picture was the presence of Gov. Tim Kaine and former Gov. Mark Warner.

But why was that massive building, exuding all the charm of an eastern European housing project, chosen for the rally backdrop? Actually, it was perfect. The setting was Arlington County's Courthouse Plaza, a mixed-use complex with a stop on the Orange Line of the Washington D.C. subway system. Arlington County delivered Webb his widest victory margin, 47,943 to 17,227. The building is an apartment complex. Webb voters presumably live here. Like this bland apartment building, Northern Virginia is faceless overall because of its many faces — a mix of races; middle to upper incomes; citizens of multinational origins. The citizenry is well-educated. The region is probably more Californian in spirit than what was once considered Virginian.

The Webb campaign recognized that their voters are stacked in this complex and others like it, as well as in the cul-de-sacs and the plethora of townhomes that cozy up to I-95, I-66 and the Beltway. And it's not insignificant that the Metro's Orange Line, with a stop at Courthouse Plaza, serves workers of the information age, not Virginia's agrarian realm. The subway serves the state's high-tech corridor and is slated to reach Dulles Airport in Loudon County, headquarters of Time Warner's AOL.

If Northern Virginia seems faceless and seemingly rootless to Virginans who live south of here, it's because it falls under the cultural, economic and political gravitational pull of Washington D.C.

Allen delivered his concession speech on a very different set, in front of Alexandria's exquisite 1750s John Carlyle House, one of Virginia's most elegant Colonial-era mansions. Its limestone façade glistened lily white in the afternoon sunshine. Had the site been selected months ago when an Allen victory seemed a sure bet? Would this setting signal from one white house to The White House?

American flags had been placed in front of the mansion. Allen, wearing a suit and red-white-and-blue-striped tie, emerged from the central paneled doorway with his wife, Susan, and their youngest daughter. Susan Allen wore a sleeveless dress that seemed casually beachy considering the opulence of the setting (but it was red-state scarlet and a powerful television color). Sen. John Warner, a reassuring Virginia icon wherever he appears, was on their heels. Spinmeisters of the Reagan era couldn't have produced a better-looking television moment. It was all grand, old-fashioned and, in view of the election results, out-of-touch.

Research shows that John Carlyle, the builder of the mansion, was a Scottish-born tobacconist. One of Allen's final campaign appearances was at the Philip Morris plant in Richmond the same day Webb was appearing at a rally at historically black Virginia Union University.

And Carlyle was an Indian fighter (and on the winning side) in the French and Indian War. Allen, too, had taken on a person he thought was an Indian (from another continent, of course) in his infamous macaca moment on Aug. 11, when he told Webb campaign worker S.R. Sidarth (a native-born Northern Virginian and fellow University of Virginia alumnus), "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

Indeed, the real Virginia isn't what it used it be. S

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