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Battleground Virginia: Presidential race heats up in the Commonwealth

Friday - 11/2/2012, 11:37am  ET

Part 1: What could influence voters

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Part 2: Jobs issue doesn't play in Va.

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Part 3: How absentee voting may affect outcome

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Part 4: Which candidate may have upper hand in absentee voting

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Part 5: Contractors see sequestration as important election issue

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Part 6: Fiscal cliff's impact on Va.'s economy

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Part 7: Candidates try to appeal to women

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Part 8: Undecideds hold a lot of power

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Part 9: Virginia among top states for campaign ad spending

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Part 10: Half of presidential ad spending is in N.Va.

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports.

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Andrew Mollenbeck, wtop.com

RICHMOND - The road to the White House winds through a handful of key swing states, and while Virginia enjoys the national attention, voters' concerns in the Commonwealth are at times different from the electorate as a whole.

Four years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Virginia in 44 years.

The state's results were reflective of Obama's victory as a whole. Of the 50 states, it was the closest to his national average of 52.9 percent of the vote.

"It is somewhat of a barometer of what's happening in the country," says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia

This time around, that Virginia "barometer" isn't much help in projecting who is favored to win Nov. 6.

Neither President Obama nor former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has gained a clear advantage despite a blitz of advertising and regular campaign stops, particularly in Northern Virginia.

In the past few weeks, Obama has rallied supporters at George Mason University, first lady Michelle Obama visited Leesburg and Romney did the same, addressing a crowd at Ida Lee Park.

But some of the go-to campaign lines trotted out in other states don't carry the same weight in Virginia. Think: "We need to get America working again!"

Others, given only a passing mention elsewhere, are a priority in Virginia. Think: mandatory federal spending cuts from sequestration.

Economy

National polls show the economy as the runaway key issue in this election. Romney campaigns with a huge banner reading: "We need a real recovery." Obama talks about spurring manufacturing jobs and rewarding companies that bring back jobs from overseas.

"The jobs issue doesn't play the same in Virginia, and particularly in Northern Virginia where literally there is almost full employment," Sabato says.

"For Republicans, the message they're carrying nationally doesn't sell well in the most populous parts of Virginia," he says.

Loudoun County is home to the nation's highest median household income, and four other counties in Northern Virginia make the top 10.

The state's unemployment rate remains below 6 percent and about two percentage points below the national average.

"People don't worry so much about the unemployment number. They're worried about other economic issues - their housing values, they're worried about the budget deficit, they're worried about taxes," says Stephen Fuller, director of the Center of Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

Voting Trends

Though Virginia's economy may not give Republicans the same kind of built-in line on the stump, absentee ballots suggest GOP voters are outpacing Obama's in enthusiasm.

Absentee ballot requests in the more rural parts of the commonwealth have noticeably increased, according to Donald Palmer, secretary of the State Board of Elections.

The Virginia Public Access Project compared figures for absentee voting in the 10 most populous localities that voted 55 percent or more for Obama and Sen. John McCain, respectively, in 2008.

In GOP-dominated localities, absentee balloting is up 26 percent - more than three times the increase in Democratic strongholds.

"Of course no one knows who people are voting for in the absentee ballots, but the numbers do suggest the Republicans' effort to vote early in Virginia is having an effect," says David Poole, the executive director of the Virginia Public Access Project.

"Nearly two-thirds of the absentee ballots that were cast in 2008 went to Mr. Obama, which meant that by the time the polls opened on election day, he had a 130.000-vote margin over Mr. McCain," he says.

As a whole, Palmer anticipates turnout to be comparable with 2008, at 65 percent or greater.

"If you have a steady and strong absentee ballot requests coming from individuals in the commonwealth, you're going to have overall good turnout," he says.

The call center at the Richmond office of the State Board of Elections further illustrates voter ambition. Palmer reports 2,000-5,000 daily calls, mostly to confirm a registration and polling place.

He expects the call volume to increase leading up to Election Day.

Sequestration

Virginia is tied at the hip to the federal government. According to Fuller, 9.5 percent of all federal payroll and procurement nationwide come to Virginia.

Facing mandatory federal spending cuts in excess of $1 trillion, the region is worried about a devastating economic hit.

"It would take 5 percent of the economy out right away, pretty much across the board," Fuller says. "This would destabilize the economy, and it would be relatively fast."

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