Birth of a swing state

Published 9:05 pm Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One of the great shifts that contributed Tuesday to the election of the first black man to the office of president of the United States was the move that the commonwealth of Virginia has made from a reliable Republican stronghold to what pundits and commentators are referring to as a “purple” state.

Indeed, the state’s slow drift to the blue end of the political spectrum was fulfilled in Election Day totals that gave Sen. Barack Obama a 105,000-vote margin and all of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. This is the first election in 40 years in which a Democrat won in Virginia. Icing on the cake for the Democratic Party is the fact that Virginians chose another Democrat to represent them in the U.S. Senate. It is the first time since 1972 that Democrats have held both of the commonwealth’s Senate seats.

The shift reflects the growth of the Washington, D.C., suburbs of Northern Virginia, long a bastion of liberalism. And it results this year, in part, from the perfect storm of a candidate who could unify black voters of every political persuasion, a Republican strategy that mistook the state’s historic support as a sign of continued Republican strength and a GOP ticket that was unable to inspire the Republican base.


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With local Democratic offices popping up all over Southside Virginia and a ticket-topping candidate who visited the state 11 times in the last half of the campaign, the Obama-Biden campaign was far more organized here than the McCain-Palin campaign. Senator John McCain visited Virginia only four times, sending his son, Doug, on a whirlwind tour of small Southside newspapers to try to gin up last-minute support for the ticket.

One could be forgiven for concluding that the Democratic team just wanted it more, to borrow a favorite old phrase of losing football coaches.

What’s clear now is that Virginia is very much in play when it comes to politics on the national stage. Given the commonwealth’s changing demographics, candidates from either party risk defeat by assuming the Old Dominion will be solidly on their side come election time.

That means that in future elections there will be more advertising, more rallies and more babies hoisted here than there have been in generations. Political junkies no longer have to watch the news to see national candidates stumping in Ohio or Iowa. Virginia is a swing state, now, and ready to play a power role in presidential politics.