The first battleground state to close its polls tonight will be Virginia, a relatively new swing state that, along with Ohio, could determine the outcome of the presidential race.
Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008 with a 6.3% margin, results that closely mirrored the national outcome. But the state has swung back to the right over the last four years, voting in conservative Republican Governor Bob McDonnell in 2009. Republicans are eager to put the state firmly back in their column this time around, but demographic shifts have tightened the presidential race.
Both campaigns have poured resources into the state, in a dual attempt to win over swing counties and turn out voters in deep red and deep blue areas. When the results start coming in at 6 p.m. tonight, these areas will be the key to determining which candidate wins the state and its 13 electoral college votes.
Here’s the breakdown:
Photo: U.S. Census
Loudoun County: Located in northern Virginia, Loudoun is the biggest swing county in this swing state. George W. Bush won Loudoun with 56% of the vote in 2004, but the county went to Obama, 53-45 per cent, in 2008. If Romney wins Loudoun back tonight, it’s a good sign that he will retake the state.
The D.C. Suburbs: Voters in suburban Washington, D.C. turned out in big numbers for Obama in 2008, giving him a 71-27 margin in Arlington County and a 60-38 margin in Fairfax County. To hold on to Virginia, the president needs to rack up similar margins — and turn out as many raw votes — in these left-leaning areas.
Henrico County: Another major swing county, home to Richmond, Bush won Henrico by 8 points in 2004; in 2008, Obama beat McCain here 56% to 44%, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win in Henrico since Lyndon B. Johnson. The county swung back to red in 2009, though, supporting Republican Bob McDonnell in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
Henrico County is probably the best bellwether for the state, with an electorate that includes a cross-section of moderates, liberals, social conservatives, and suburban swing voters. Voter turnout is therefore crucial to winning the county. The Obama team has the advantage of experience here, but Republicans have stepped up their game since 2008. And half of the county lies in the district of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is under a lot of pressure to deliver for the GOP.
Southern Virginia: Just as Democrats need to rack up solid margins in the north, Romney needs a strong showing, and high voter turnout, in Virginia’s rural southern counties in order to offset Obama’s advantage in the state’s urban areas.
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