Real Clear Politics Swing State Review: Virginia

2008, 2008 Presidential Campaign, Barack Obama, John McCain, Virginia

The newest post on key swing states at Real Clear Politics examines Virginia, where Obama hopes to become the first Democrat to carry the state since Johnson in 1964. The large African-American population should help Obama and the large veteran population should help McCain.

Here are five things to watch for on Election Day.

(1) Washington. Incipient realignment or not, Obama has a chance to improve on Kerry’s numbers in metro Washington. Can he? If so, by how much? He’ll need a big haul in northern Virginia to overcome McCain’s likely advantages in other parts of the state.

(2) Virginia Beach. The second-largest part of the state, both Obama and McCain enjoy unique advantages here. Virginia Beach is home to a large number of veterans and African Americans. Will these two balance one another out? That would not augur well for Obama, who will need something more than metro Washington to tip the state. Keep your eye on Hampton, Virginia for an early indication. African Americans outnumber whites here, plus no county or city of comparable size has a larger share of veterans in the whole country.

(3) African Americans. The Obama campaign has promised game-changing African American turnout. If it can deliver, the Old Dominion is one place where it could have an important effect. Typically, African Americans constitute about 20% of the vote in a presidential election. If, when the exit polls roll out on Election Night, we find something closer to 25% – expect the state to be very close. That will be a sign that the Obama campaign delivered on its grandiose promise.

(4) Richmond. Obama did really well in some suburban and exurban areas during the primaries (e.g. Philadelphia and Columbus), and poorly in others (e.g. Pittsburgh and Cleveland). It’s hard to get a read on metro Richmond. African Americans constituted such a large share of the vote there that it is difficult to estimate how suburban/exurban whites voted. Both Webb and Kaine did better than Kerry in metro Richmond. If Obama can hold his own among suburban/exurban whites – enhanced African American turnout here might boost his margins and put the state in striking range.

(5) Downstate whites (outside Richmond and Virginia Beach). These voters can make a difference. One reason Jimmy Carter kept Virginia so close in 1976 was his support outside metropolitan Washington. In an inverse of the 2004 results, Ford won metro DC while Carter won the rural areas as well as smaller towns like Roanoke, Blacksburg, and Bristol. These days, they generally Republican – but many still vote Democrat. Will they this cycle?