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Obama wins Virginia, repeating 2008 success

November 05, 2012|By Paul West
  • A long line of voters stretches under three sample ballots taped to the window of the Jefferson-Riverdale precinct at the Jackson Park Library in Roanoke, Va.
A long line of voters stretches under three sample ballots taped to the window… (Kyle Green / Roanoke Times )

President Obama put Virginia’s 13 electoral votes in his column early Wednesday.

Virginia emerged relatively late in the race as a pivotal battleground and 2012 bellwether, surprisingly competitive given its historically Republican leanings.

Four years ago, Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to win the state.  He was buoyed by trends that are increasingly turning the Old Dominion purple — meaning that it belongs reliably to neither party, after going Republican in presidential elections for decades.

The changes were brought about, in large part, by growth in the booming northern Virginia suburbs, which cast more than a third of the statewide vote.  The region, adjacent to Washington, is heavily dependent on the federal government and has attracted many moderate, independent swing voters who have far more in common with the North, culturally and politically, than the South.

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Obama has made frequent visits, both officially as president and as a candidate, to various parts of the state, including the Hampton Roads area near the Atlantic Coast, home to a large population of defense workers and the biggest concentration of U.S. Navy assets in the country.  Also known as Southside Virginia, the area, with roots in the plantation era, is home to many African Americans, who cast roughly 1 in 5 Virginia votes.

Another key battlefield for both sides was Richmond, the state capital, which like northern Virginia has outer suburbs that increasingly exhibit classic swing-vote behavior.

As a former capital of the old Confederacy, the commonwealth retains a strong conservative streak that runs through much of the central valley of Virginia and the rural southwestern part of the state, and Romney made a major campaign effort there. 

Another index of Virginia’s importance and the GOP ticket’s concern was its visibility: Romney made six stops in the state in his final week of campaigning.  And while he was making unusual election day appearances in Ohio and Pennsylvania, his running mate, Paul Ryan, scheduled a final stop in Richmond.

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A potential wild card: Third-party candidate Virgil Goode, a conservative former congressman from the rural southwestern corner of the state, posed a threat to Romney.

The Republican nominee has made the area’s coal industry, and what he describes as Obama’s war on coal, a central element in his campaign in this and other coal states, including Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. And though Goode was only drawing about 1% of the vote in preelection polls, the GOP regarded him as a potential spoiler, knocking him off the ballot in Pennsylvania but failing in Virginia.

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