Virginia Is Up For Grabs In Fall

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 25, 2008

RICHMOND -- For the first time in decades, Virginia is shaping up as a presidential battleground as advisers to Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama lay plans to compete in the fall for the state's 13 electoral votes.

Aides to McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, and to Obama, the likely Democratic nominee, say they will invest heavily in winning Virginia, which could set the stage for a barrage of television ads, voter registration drives and campaign visits by the candidates.

"I think it is a battleground state," said Rick Davis, McCain's national campaign manager. "I know they are targeting it, and we are certainly targeting it."

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), an early Obama supporter, said, "I know this for sure: Virginians are going to see a lot more of these candidates in person than they have seen in quite some time."

The battle for Virginia could be decisive in determining which candidate wins the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. But there will also be campaigns for the seats held by U.S. Sen. John W. Warner and U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, both Republicans who are retiring. National Democrats, optimistic that they can pick up the Warner and Davis seats, also plan to target three incumbent House Republicans.

"Virginia has changed dramatically over the years, but the question will be, has it changed enough?" said Larry J. Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.

Virginia has supported a Democratic presidential candidate only once since 1948 -- Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 -- but the recent string of Democratic victories has Republicans vowing to redouble their efforts in the state this year.

Officials in both parties say McCain starts with an edge over Obama in Virginia, a state President Bush carried by 262,000 votes in 2004. A prisoner of war during Vietnam, McCain expects to do well among the state's 800,000 veterans.

But Democrats are emboldened by the state's diversifying demographics, Bush's low approval ratings and statistics showing 131,000 newly registered voters so far this year, nearly half of whom are under 25.

Democrats also think they will have a formidable trio of Obama, Kaine and U.S. Senate candidate Mark R. Warner selling the party's message in Virginia.

As he proved with his 30-point win in the state's Democratic primary Feb. 12, Obama has amassed tens of thousands of loyal supporters in Virginia, a state where African Americans make up 20 percent of the population and residents from increasingly Democratic Northern Virginia account for one in three registered voters.

Mark Warner, a former governor with a reputation as a ferocious competitor, will be the Democratic nominee for Senate. Favored to win his race against either former Republican governor James S. Gilmore III or Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), Warner might campaign with Obama, perhaps boosting the senator's appeal in rural Virginia, where Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ran strong in the primary.

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