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Kerry's Va. Team Sent to More Contested States

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2004; Page A04

RICHMOND, Oct. 3 -- Sen. John F. Kerry's top campaign officials in Virginia have been reassigned to work in other states, effectively conceding the commonwealth to President Bush even as the Democratic presidential nomineerides a wave of momentum nationally from his performance in last week's debate.

Susan Swecker, the Kerry campaign's state director, and Jonathan Beeton, its press secretary, were scheduled to leave Virginia on Sunday night, Beeton said. Eighteen other campaign staff workers were sent to help elsewhere, leaving about 10 paid staffers in Virginia.

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Beeton said he probably would go to Minnesota or Wisconsin, though he said it was unclear exactly where the campaign needed the most help. He said he did not know where Swecker, a longtime Virginia Democrat, was going to campaign for the last month of the campaign.

"Virginia has been a battleground state this year, but it's not a top-tier state. It's never been an Ohio or a Wisconsin or a West Virginia," he said. "We're going where the race may be a bit closer. We are gladly going to these other states."

Virginia has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since President Lyndon B. Johnson carried the state in 1964. But this summer, Kerry's campaign raised expectations that Virginia would be competitive after spending nearly $2 million to run television advertisements and to build a statewide staff of nearly 30 people in several offices.

Although polls never showed Kerry in the lead, several polls indicated this summer that the Massachusetts senator was within striking distance of beating Bush despite the state's history. Senior Kerry advisers crafted a three-prong strategy for the state: Appeal to Northern Virginians, military veterans and rural communities.

But throughout August, as Kerry's poll numbers sank nationwide, he failed to build momentum in Virginia. Last month, the campaign signaled its intentions by declining to include Virginia in a list of battleground states in which it planned to buy television ads.

Ken Hutcheson, the state director for Bush's campaign in Virginia, said he was not surprised by the Kerry withdrawal. "Clearly, this was coming all along," he said. "The Kerry camp has realized after numerous polls that the campaign is under water and has no prayer in Virginia."

Beeton said the Kerry campaign's offices will remain open.

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