Clinton, Obama Each Claim Footing To Push Shifting Va. Across the Aisle

The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates make a final appeal to voters before the "Potomac Primaries" of Maryland, Virginia and D.C. on Feb. 12, 2008.
By Tim Craig and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 11, 2008

As Virginians prepare to vote in tomorrow's Democratic primary, both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are claiming to be the candidate with the best chance of winning the state in the Nov. 4 general election.

Virginia's choice is especially important because the state could be one that switches sides and helps put a Democrat in the White House.

Although it hasn't supported a Democratic nominee for president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, the state has been turning more Democratic, especially in the Washington suburbs. Party leaders believe the Democrats could carry the state if the nominee can solidify the party's expanding base in Northern Virginia and reach out to Virginia's many rural voters.

During a speech Saturday night at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Richmond, Obama argued that he is the most likely to win Virginia in the fall because he has proven he can get votes from independents.

"Virginia Democrats know how important this is. That's how Mark Warner won in this state. That's how Tim Kaine won in this state. That's how Jim Webb won in this state," Obama said. "And if I am your nominee, this is one Democrat who plans to campaign in Virginia and win in Virginia this fall."

But Clinton stressed at the dinner that she, too, would fight hard to win Virginia, unlike many past Democratic nominees who conceded the state months before the general election. Clinton said she "has the strength and experience to lead the country" and can go "toe-to-toe" with Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican nominee.

Voters are having the same debate, saying their choice tomorrow will hinge not only on issues but also on which candidate would present a stronger challenge to McCain. Obama's supporters argue that he offers a break with the past and an appeal to national unity that can unlock Virginia's 13 electoral votes for the Democrats. Clinton's camp points to her experience and more moderate voting record.

"You want the Democratic ticket to get into the White House, and I think McCain would eat Obama alive," Gene Carlson of McLean said. "I have no problem with him as a person or a senator, but I think he's not in the same league as his opponents. Give him another 20 years."

Beverly Katz of Arlington County countered that Obama has an advantage because he opposed the war in Iraq from the start. "It's a really big issue for Democrats," Katz said. "He'd stand up better against McCain."

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), all three Democratic members of Virginia's House delegation and half of the Democrats in the state Senate have endorsed Obama.

"I think we are kind of tired of being taken for granted," Kaine said. "We are anxious to be relevant in presidential politics, and we want our votes to matter, and that makes Virginia Democrats excited about Barack Obama."

Mo Elleithee, a Clinton spokesman, rebutted suggestions that Clinton would lose Virginia in a general election.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company