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Correction to This Article
This article about the Virginia primary incorrectly said that Virginia has not had a seriously contested Democratic primary for governor or U.S. senator in more than a decade. In June 2006, Democrats James Webb and Harris Miller faced each other in a primary that Webb won.

Va. Is Next Battleground In Democrats' Long Fight

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The Post's Perry Bacon describes Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) stop in Northern Va. Wednesday, where she spoke with press about her next moves in the primary race.Video: washingtonpost.comEditor: Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com
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By Bill Turque and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, digging in for a delegate-by-delegate fight for the Democratic presidential nomination, returned to Washington yesterday with plans to make Tuesday's Virginia primary a major battleground.

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Strategists in both campaigns had once regarded Obama (Ill.) as well-positioned to sweep Virginia, Maryland and the District in next week's first-ever regional primary. All three jurisdictions are rich in the African American, upper-income and independent voters who have sustained his campaign.

But advisers to Clinton (N.Y.) are now mapping out a strategy that does not exclude Maryland and the District but focuses heavily on fast-growing outer suburbs such as Prince William and Loudoun counties in Northern Virginia and the state's economically struggling rural southwest, where unemployment is high among white working-class voters.

Clinton, who is scheduled to meet with students at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County this afternoon, said she is moving "full speed ahead" into the Washington region. Her appearance is part of increasingly frenetic campaigning by candidates in both parties in the area, where the first significant wave of votes since the inconclusive Super Tuesday primaries will be cast.

Obama and Clinton have committed to attending Saturday's Jefferson-Jackson Democratic dinner in Richmond. On the GOP side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) are scheduled to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference today in the District. Romney is expected to appear at a Republican dinner in Baltimore County this evening.

But it is Virginia that is expected to be the most heavily contested turf over the next six days in what has been variously dubbed the Potomac, Chesapeake or Beltway primary.

Clinton and Obama enter the state all but deadlocked after Tuesday's contests in 22 states. Both sides are preparing for a weeks-long slog in which virtually every delegate takes on huge significance.

Each campaign boasts strong ties to the state's leading Democrats. Obama is backed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Rep. Robert C. Scott (D), the state's only black congressman.

Clinton's deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, directed Kaine's 2005 campaign, which relied in part on winning Prince William and Loudoun. Mo Elleithee, a communications specialist, and Matt Felan, a finance official, who have extensive Virginia roots, are working on her state strategy. Mame Reilly of Alexandria, a confidante of former governor Mark R. Warner and the head of a Democratic National Committee caucus on women, is one of her most prominent supporters in the state.

Obama strategists have broken Virginia into four parts -- Northern Virginia, Richmond, Charlottesville and the Tidewater area -- all of which are filled with the voters they seek. He is expected to hold events in all four areas as he blitzes the region Sunday and Monday.

Kevin Griffis, an Obama spokesman, said the Illinois senator will be more appealing than Clinton to Northern Virginians, including the area's significant number of self-described independents. In Virginia, voters are free to decide on Election Day which party's primary they will participate in.

"Barack has proven he can do well with voters . . . in Northern Virginia," Griffis said. The inner suburbs of Arlington and Alexandria are populated by many recent immigrants and young professionals.


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