Pollsters have all but given Virginia's 13 electoral votes to President Bush. Pundits say none of the state's congressional campaigns is likely to produce an upset Nov. 2. And there are no statewide races to pique a voter's interest in going to the polls.
But try telling any of that to the armies of volunteers that both parties have assembled for a final get-out-the-vote push as the 2004 campaign sprints toward Election Day.
Across the state, and especially in vote-rich Northern Virginia, thousands of union members, teachers, party activists, churchgoers, veterans and college students will spend the next nine days knocking on doors and punching in telephone numbers in an all-out effort to get their supporters to the polls.
"We're spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week going full throttle," said John Gibson, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who is also coordinating the Bush effort in Fairfax County. "We know the votes are out there. It's our job to get out there and deliver them."
Republicans such as Gibson say they can't take anything for granted. Virginia's history -- of voting for Republicans for president since 1968 -- is not a guarantee, they insist, and there must be a concerted effort to woo their supporters to the polls. They note that President Bill Clinton came within a few points of winning Virginia in 1996.
Virginia Democrats, meanwhile, say they have not given up hope that a miracle could happen in the commonwealth on behalf of their nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). They say the state is trending away from the Republicans, and they claim an edge in the tens of thousands of newly registered voters.
"Would it be like the Red Sox winning the American League pennant? Yeah," said Eric Graves, director of the Democratic-leaning Virginia Grassroots Coalition. "But I think it's possible."
Both parties say that no matter what happens in the presidential election, the voter turnout and volunteer efforts will pay big dividends next year, when the state holds its election to choose the next governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) is the Republican Party's presumptive nominee for governor. His likely opponent is Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). Both parties have a full slate of candidates for the other statewide offices and say campaigning for all of them will begin in earnest as soon as the presidential election is over.
"You get people motivated because of the presidential race, and then we can turn around in January and keep them motivated for the governor's race," said Ray Allen, a Republican political consultant who is helping to run the campaign in central Virginia. "The exercising of the grass roots, of course, has great impact for next year."
Allen and other Republican consultants say their party's last-minute campaigning is largely being organized by the network of dedicated GOP regulars and by the political staffs of the Republican members of Congress.
Yesterday, Republican volunteers began their final sprint to Election Day by holding small rallies, distributing fliers and staffing phone banks at almost 70 locations across the state.
For months, GOP volunteers have been calling registered voters in Virginia, attempting to find out where their supporters live. The results have been entered into a massive database using software called Voter Vault developed by the Republican National Committee.
The software allows the GOP to target specific areas. In Fairfax County, for example, the Republicans are focusing on precincts where support for their candidates has been strong in past elections but turnout has been low, said Ken Hutcheson, the state director for the Bush campaign.
For example, Hutcheson said Bush won the Willow Springs precinct with 57 percent of the vote in 2000 and the Deer Park precinct with 61 percent of the vote. But in both those places, voter turnout was well under 70 percent. They are targeting both to turn out even more voters they believe will support the president.
"Northern Virginia is obviously the battleground region in terms of the presidential race," Hutcheson said.
The Democrats, too, are using computer programs to target their voters. They have a program called Prevail, developed by the Democratic National Committee. Using lists of voters, the party and its supporters are organizing door-to-door canvasses of neighborhoods in 23 communities across the state. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) joined a rally with one group of canvassers in the Hampton Roads area yesterday.
In addition, the AFL-CIO and its member unions have fielded more than 200 people to aid Kerry and the Democratic congressional candidates. State President Daniel G. LeBlanc said they are walking precincts in a program they have dubbed Labor to Neighbor.
"We have issue-specific leaflets. We have a conversation with the union member at the door," LeBlanc said. "You can't always get them with the phone. You don't always get them with the mail. That's why we go to the door."
The Democratic get-out-the-vote effort is less centralized through its activists and incumbents, party officials said. The Democrats rely more on the unions, teachers and loose-knit grass-roots groups such as the Virginia Grassroots Coalition, which consists mostly of 2,500 people who don't attend regular party meetings.
Democrats said they identified almost 400,000 supporters during their party's primary campaign in February. And thousands of people across the state have been gathering at informal meet-ups across the state, said Laura Bland, the party's communications director.
"Absolutely, we are focused on 2004," she said. "But we see 2004 as being part of a continuum. This is one step along the way. When we find out somebody is a likely Democratic voter, we tag them in our voter file.
"That is something that is going to have a tremendous benefit for Tim Kaine next year."