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A Very Different Virginia

A GENERATION ago, Virginia's political elite led the South in a ``massive resistance'' to federal demands for racial integration. Public schools in Norfolk were closed for a year rather than mingle black and white students. Mr. Wilder is running in a very different Virginia.

Newcomers abound. The state's population has risen 12.1 percent since 1980, from 5.3 million to slightly less than 6 million in 1988. Between 1970 and 1980 it rose nearly 15 percent. A quarter of all Virginians now live in Northern Virginia - suburban Washington, D.C. In Fairfax County, the largest swath of these suburbs, three quarters of the residents are from another state or another country.

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``These people have no ties to the old Virginia and probably an interest in severing ties to the old,'' notes Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.

The newer Virginians tend to be whiter and wealthier than the old and are giving Wilder his advantage. A Washington Post poll in October showed Wilder running 10 percentage points better among newcomers of 10 years or less than with longer residents.

In 1981, Virginia sent to Congress the most conservative House delegation in the nation. Republicans held nine of the 10 seats. By 1988, that shifted to a 50-50 split.

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