Virginiaflag A belated thought about what happened in Virginia last Tuesday, and what it might mean for other states:

There was a time, not too many years ago, when my home county of Arlington, the inner-suburban territory just across the Potomac from Washington D.C., used to support Republicans running for statewide office. Then Arlington turned Democratic, but the Republicans didn't worry too much, because adjoining Fairfax, with five times as many people, was safely in the GOP column.

In the past decade, Democrats began carrying Fairfax. Still, Republicans had a cushion: They dominated Loudoun and Prince William, the fast-growing outer suburban counties just beyond the Fairfax line.

Now that cushion is just about gone as well.      

Both Loudoun and Prince William voted for Tim Kaine in his successful Democratic campaign for governor last year; both voted for Democrat Jim Webb last week against Republican Senator George Allen.

I'm not saying that the outer suburbs are lost to Republicans forever, in Virginia or anwhere else. Many of them will no doubt support the GOP candidate nominee for president in 2008. What I'm saying is that Republicans are having to go further and further out from the cities to find electoral territory that is safely theirs. At some point, they run out of room.

That's essentially what happened to George Allen. He had to concede too many suburban votes to make up his deficit in the rural counties where he was popular.

I don't think Virginia is a special case. The vote in its suburbs essentially tracks what has been happening in much of suburban America in the last two elections. If Republicans have to go 50 miles beyond the cities to find friendly territory, they are going to lose elections in a lot of states in the next few years. If they're smart, they'll take a good look at the numbers from Virginia on Nov. 7 -- and begin thinking about strategies that might turn them around.