McCain Aide Sees Va. as Close but Winnable

In a campaign shift, McCain strategist Michael DuHaime called Virginia
In a campaign shift, McCain strategist Michael DuHaime called Virginia "an even race." (Kevin Sanders - Associated Press)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

RICHMOND, Aug. 14 -- A top strategist for Sen. John McCain's campaign said Thursday that the presidential contest in Virginia will "undoubtedly be close" this fall and acknowledged that the state should no longer be considered a Republican stronghold.

The comments by Mike DuHaime, McCain's political director, represent a significant shift in the GOP's thinking and are the latest signal that Virginia is emerging as a state that could make or break McCain's chances to defeat Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

"Obviously, Senator Obama is putting an awful lot of money into Virginia, both on the ground and on television, and it is a state that has elected Democrats recently," DuHaime said in a conference call with Virginia reporters. "But it's one we take very seriously and one we think still leans for us and one we will fight for every single day."

DuHaime's comments about the state of the race in Virginia stand in stark contrast to a strategy briefing released in June by Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager. In that PowerPoint presentation, which was posted on the Arizona senator's Web site, Virginia was listed as one of 17 "solidly Republican" states.

DuHaime, who described Virginia as a "center-right state," said he still expects McCain to win Virginia because of his appeal among veterans in Hampton Roads and independents in vote-rich Northern Virginia.

But DuHaime noted that recent polls show Obama and McCain essentially tied in the state. He said the McCain campaign is stepping up its efforts to organize in Virginia, including assembling more than 1,000 precinct captains.

"Basically you are looking at an even race in Virginia," DuHaime said. "But we think [McCain] is a Republican who matches up very well in Virginia."

The Obama campaign said DuHaime's comments prove that McCain is worried he could become the first Republican presidential nominee in 44 years to lose Virginia.

"They are now seeing the same things we are seeing, which is it is really close in Virginia," said Kevin Griffis, an Obama spokesman. "We are making a strong effort there, and we are making that strong effort because we absolutely believe that Virginia is in play."

Since he clinched the Democratic nomination in June, Obama has been airing television ads statewide, opened 33 offices and dispatched dozens of his most experienced field operatives into communities across Virginia, which has 13 electoral votes.

On Wednesday, Obama sent another signal of how badly he wants to win Virginia by announcing that Democratic Senate candidate Mark R. Warner, a popular former governor, will deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention this month.

The campaign also announced Thursday that another chief Obama surrogate, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), will hit the stump for Obama this weekend in the state.

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