By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008
RICHMOND, July 16 -- Sen. Barack Obama's campaign announced Wednesday that it is adding 20 offices across Virginia, an unprecedented effort by a presidential candidate and another sign that he plans to compete vigorously in a state that has been on the sidelines during past presidential contests.
The offices, which will open Saturday, will be in nearly every medium-size city in the state, along with a few locations often overlooked by statewide candidates, much less a presidential campaign.
"A lot of these places may have never had a presidential campaign before," state Sen. John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke) said at an event announcing the offices. "It shows [Obama] is investing in the commonwealth and it is a bottom-up, not a top-down campaign."
In vote-rich Fairfax County, where the Illinois Democrat has assigned a paid staff member to each of the county's nine magisterial districts, the campaign will have two offices. He also is opening offices in Woodbridge and Winchester to reach voters in the Washington region's fast-growing outer suburbs.
Many offices will be in traditional Republican strongholds, such as Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley and Lynchburg in southern Virginia. In southwestern Virginia, where Obama performed poorly in the Feb. 12 primary, the campaign will open an office in Bristol and in Castlewood, a town of 2,000 in the heart of the region's coal country.
"We know we have a lot of work to do in some of these places," said Kevin Griffis, an Obama spokesman. "Without these sorts of offices there, we are not going to make as much headway as with us there. We think this will, at the very least, help us close the margin."
A Democratic presidential candidate has not won in Virginia since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Recent successes by Democrats, including the elections of two successive governors and a U.S. senator, and demographic shifts have many analysts saying that Virginia may be up for grabs in the presidential race.
The offices, partially funded by the Democratic National Committee, are the latest signal that Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, considers Virginia to be a crucial component of his strategy for securing the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Virginia has 13 electoral votes.
The Virginia offices, which are in addition to the 10 regional offices being opened by the Virginia Democratic Party, also demonstrate that Obama is banking on having a huge fundraising advantage over his expected Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
By contrast, former governor Mark R. Warner, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has one office and uses the state's 10 regional Democratic offices. In all, Obama will have access to 30 offices for campaign workers.
Several Virginia Democratic and Republican strategists said Wednesday that they cannot remember a candidate for governor, much less one for president, who committed to so many offices across the state.
Del. Christopher B. Saxman (R-Staunton), a co-chairman of McCain's Virginia campaign, said Obama's efforts "sound like a tremendous waste of money."
"They could be a lot more effective with probably half that number," Saxman said. "It is being done to create this image of momentum and enthusiasm that frankly is just not out there."
By the end of the week, McCain will have regional offices in Richmond, Fredericksburg, Virginia Beach and Fairfax. A fifth office is to open next week in Roanoke. His national headquarters is in Arlington.
"We are staffing up in all regions," said former Virginia attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, also co-chairman of McCain's Virginia campaign.
Obama's efforts to overwhelm McCain with resources in Virginia closely mirror his efforts during the primary battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). In that contest, Obama found mixed success. In some states, he opened more offices and deployed more staff members than Clinton, but she went on to win handily.
"You can overdo it," Saxman said of Obama's campaign.
Griffis said Obama has more than 10,000 volunteers in Virginia who need more space. State GOP officials said they do not believe Obama has that many volunteers.
Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a Democratic strategist in Roanoke, said Obama will have to do a lot more than just open offices if he hopes to improve his standing in the more conservative parts of the state.
"It's a good strategy, but rather than have 20 campaign offices all across Virginia, he is going to have to make a lot of visits, especially out here," Saunders said. "He is not doing well out here. I don't care what the polls say. . . . He can open offices on every corner, but if he doesn't talk to these people, he is not going to win Virginia."