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Right Turn
Posted at 11:17 AM ET, 08/02/2012

Will Virginia see red?

Mitt Romney is out with another state-specific ad featuring a small-business owner upset by President Obama’s speech ridiculing entrepreneurs. This one is from my home state of Virginia, where Obama’s words were spoken:

This version is one of the most effective in the series, perhaps because you see so much of the owner’s business, grounding the viewer in the contrast between Obama’s words and the businesswoman’s life. She also talks about her own “team,” not exactly the caricature of an attention-grabbing mogul Obama, the attention-grabbing pol, would have us imagine.

There is no more critical state than Virginia in the presidential race. It will be highly competitive, as you can tell from the number of trips both candidates have made here. There is hard data and anecdotal evidence that Obama will have a much harder time of it than when he won the state by more than 6 points.

On one hand, the northern part of the state enjoys the largesse of and employment by the federal government, which keeps its unemployment rate relatively low. However, the potential impact of the president’s defense cuts, his energy stance (deadly in coal country) and disaffected young voters, who turned out in swarms in 2008, are problematic for the president.

Moreover, the state has moved right since 2008. It elected a Republican governor, three more Republican representatives and moved to a huge advantage in the House of Delegates and rough parity in the state Senate. Obama has ginned up the Republican Party here.

This time, around new voter registration (which includes a lot of young voters) is down. The Washington Times reports: “In fact, new voters registered at a slower rate during the first half of this year than any of the previous three presidential elections in Virginia. Other battleground states such as Florida and North Carolina are seeing the same trend, which political operatives and elections analysts attribute to a cratering of enthusiasm for Democrats this year.” The numbers are bracing for Democrats:

The number of registered voters in Virginia jumped by 134,937 in the first six months of 2008. But this year, the increase was just 81,427. In 2004, the increase in the first six months was 99,705, and in 2000, it was 126,464.
For the entire year in 2008, registered voters increased by about a half-million in Virginia, bringing the total to a record at the time of more than 5 million.

In what might be seen as a sign of desperation, Democrats may have engaged in some voter-registration shenanigans. The Post reported last week: “Romney’s lawyers on Tuesday wrote Virginia’s Republican attorney general Ken Cuccinelli and State Board of Elections chairman Charlie Judd, a former top state GOP official, seeking a criminal probe of the Voter Participation Center. Romney’s request is based on reports that pets, felons, children and corpses received voter registration forms from the group with some information already filled out.”

In any event, few expect the turnout to be anywhere near 2008 this time around. That would be a blow to Obama, who relies on less-consistent voters.

Polling, for what it is worth, has been nip-and-tuck up until now, within the margin of error since early July.

The name of the game for Republicans in statewide races is to keep close in the most populous county, Fairfax, and clean up everywhere else. Sen. John McCain lost in Fairfax County in the 2008 presidential race by 21 points; Bob McDonnell won it in 2009 (unimaginable for a Republican just a few years earlier) on his way to a huge statewide gubernatorial victory. The state and the presidential election may well turn on the upscale suburban voters there, who went wildly for Obama in 2008.

Anecdotally, I can see that in the least-Republican-friendly parts of the state (i.e., Northern Virginia), there is much more visible enthusiasm for Romney than there was for McCain at this point last time around. The lawn signs are already up, and you see a lot of caustically anti-Obama bumper stickers, which were nowhere to be seen in 2008. To put it mildly, people voting against Obama no longer feel like they’ll be pariahs for showing support for his opponent.

Local and statewide pols are also much more engaged and anxious to be seen with Romney. The very popular McDonnell has been an omnipresent surrogate. His placement on the ticket would certainly be a plus here.

Much is being made of a third-party candidate, former Republican representative and state senator Virgil Goode, who Democrats hope will drain votes from Romney. As the election draws closer and Virginia’s importance in the race becomes more vivid, I doubt Goode will draw much support. The anti-Obama animus is still so high that anyone conservative enough to know who Goode is and like what he stands for is desperate to get rid of Obama, and there is only one way to do that. If Florida today, heaven forbid, is akin to Florida in 2000, then every vote is critical. But absent a teeny-tiny margin, it is unlikely Goode will play a factor. (The media love to write and talk about third-party contenders, but such articles are editor- and producer-driven — Do something on that other guy! — rather than fact-driven.)

Political insiders on both sides think Virginia will be much harder for Obama this time around. Romney’s appeal to small business, a calm brand of center-right politics (which appeals to independents and even conservative Democrats) and a portrayal of Obama as a big-government, anti-domestic energy pol all work in his favor. But it’ll be close. Hence, the flood of presidential TV ads that won’t abate until Election Day.

By  |  11:17 AM ET, 08/02/2012

 
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