Virginians Fasten Seat Belts as Obama, McCain Dig In

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2008


Afew months ago, many Republicans were predicting that Virginia's status as a battleground state in the presidential election would be a summer sensation that would quickly fade after Labor Day.

Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) would pull his resources from the state after realizing it would, once again, be reliably red on Election Day.

Privately, some Democrats agreed, pointing to the decision by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) four years ago to abandon Virginia after his state poll numbers failed to move following his party's nominating convention.

But Labor Day has come and gone. And, if anything, the battle over Virginia's 13 electoral votes is getting hotter. Obama and GOP presidential nominee John McCain, the Arizona senator, are spending time and money in Virginia in ways the commonwealth hasn't seen in a generation.

As both candidates prepare for the final two months leading up to the Nov. 4 election, residents should prepare for a campaign that could resemble some of the state's fiercest contests for governor or U.S. senator.

A lot can still change, but it's looking increasingly likely that the presidential contest in Virginia could soon rival some of Virginia's great modern campaigns, including the 2006 race between Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) and former senator George Allen and the 1994 contest between Republican Oliver North and former senator Charles Robb (D).

Many Republicans and Democrats say McCain is favored to win Virginia, which last voted for a Democratic presidential nominee in 1964. But few doubt that winning Virginia has become a top priority for Obama, adding an element of uncertainty to the race.

Obama has been making a strong push for Virginia since midsummer, when he began launching TV ads statewide and started opening 41 offices across the state.

Obama, backed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and U.S. Senate candidate Mark R. Warner (D), also made several visits to the state before the Democratic National Convention. The visits have continued since the convention.

He also has amassed thousands of volunteers in Virginia, and on any given day his Web site lists dozens of voter registration, canvassing or get-out-the vote activities.

McCain has been slower to engage in Virginia. But that is starting to change.

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