McCain, Palin Stump for Crucial Hampton Roads Votes

Republican nominee John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin held rallies and town halls across the country this week, focusing their efforts in key swing states the campaign plans to heavily target ahead of Election Day.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 14, 2008; Page B01

VIRGINIA BEACH, Oct. 13 -- Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, rallied thousands of enthusiastic supporters Monday in Hampton Roads, an increasingly crucial region that had once been considered safe territory for the Republican presidential ticket but is now up for grabs.

McCain (Ariz.) came to the heavily populated and racially diverse area to speak about the global economic crisis, U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his increasingly uphill battle to the presidency.

"Let me give you the state of the race today and some straight talk,'' McCain said. "We have 22 days to go. We're six points down. The national media has written us off. But they forgot to let you decide."

Monday's visit, three weeks before the Nov. 4 election, shows that the McCain campaign recognizes the area's importance to winning Virginia's 13 electoral votes. It also demonstrates that the region, like the state as a whole, can no longer be considered a Republican stronghold.

The area, home to the world's largest naval base, will be one of the state's most competitive in the presidential race. A Washington Post-ABC News poll late last month showed that 50 percent of likely voters in Hampton Roads favor the Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), and 45 percent back McCain.

"It's going to come right down to the wire here, and it's pretty clear that the road to victory in 2008 is going to run right through the Hampton Roads," Palin said.

Democrats expect Obama to win big in vote-rich Northern Virginia, while Republicans expect McCain to win the Shenandoah Valley and rural Southside and southwestern Virginia. That means winning the state could come down to Hampton Roads.

The region is home to core constituencies for both parties. It is composed of mid-size cities and sprawling suburbs where economic, military and social issues all come into play.

McCain, a Navy veteran who was once based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, expects support from the half-million people connected with the military as well as the large evangelical population. Obama, the first black presidential nominee on a major party ticket, expects support from the state's largest African American population and thousands of college students.

"It's ground zero. It comes down to Hampton Roads," said Del. John A. Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake), who was working as a volunteer at the rally. "You can't look at Hampton Roads and say, 'This is a Republican area and that is a Democratic area,' because it really is a mix."

The Virginia Beach Convention Center was filled with thousands of supporters wearing red shirts, sweaters, scarves and hats to symbolize their desire to prevent a Democrat from carrying the state for the first time in more than four decades.

The McCain campaign estimated the crowd at 25,000 people, but the local police and fire marshal put it closer to 12,000.

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