With 13 electoral votes and a tendency to bend Republican, the commonwealth of Virginia rarely draws the attention of presidential candidates the way perennial swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Iowa do. But Virginia???s 52-46 percent swing in 2008 favoring Democratic candidate Barack Obama and today???s heated narrative about defense spending cuts and a coming economic crisis have changed all of that.
Candidate foot traffic is one indicator of the growing importance of winning Virginia. Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who has made six days??? worth of campaign appearances in the state since the beginning of the year, begins a swing state tour in Virginia on August 11, joining forces with its Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, for maximum impact. Obama, whose previous efforts in the state had also been perfunctory, launched an intensive tour through the state July 13 and 14, and returned again July 27.
A new National Journal study shows Virginia ranking third in cumulative ad spending among all eight swing states for both Obama and Romney, just behind Florida and Ohio. A Washington Post breakdown of the spending by region and week shows that the military-heavy port city of Norfolk has received the most attention, particularly with the summer upswing in ad purchases nationwide. Campaign airtime buys have topped $300,000 in the Norfolk region every week since mid-May.
Some political observers believe the apparent uptick in interest can be tied to growing concern about more than $500 billion of defense cuts set to take effect next year under the Budget Control Act. Projections from George Mason University show Virginia, with its many defense contractors and military installations, faring worst of all under the cuts, with $9.8 billion and more than 122,000 private-sector jobs on the line. According to estimates by the National Association of Manufacturers, 115,000 of those jobs could be lost by 2014.
Romney has seized on the sequestration narrative, attacking Obama for signing the law that mandated the cuts and for threatening to veto any attempt to override them without also raising taxes.
???This is not the time for the president???s radical cuts in the military,??? Romney told an audience at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev., last month.
At the same convention, Obama tried to hold ground on the issue. ???Those big, across-the-board cuts, including defense, that Congress said would occur next year if they couldn???t reach a deal to reduce the deficit? Let???s understand, first of all, there???s no reason that should happen, because people in Congress ought to be able to come together and agree on a plan, a balanced approach that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong,??? Obama said.
The narrative of calamity under sequestration is gaining traction, said Wes Battle, communications director for Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who launched a ???defending our defenders??? road tour of Virginia in May to discuss sequestration.
???I think (Forbes) had enormous feedback that obviously the sequester is not something that anyone wants, that it will be catastrophic to national security in the state of Virginia,??? Wes Battle told Human Events. ???I think when you see the presidential candidates talking about it and you see the senators talking about it, it???s certainly gaining some traction.???
Republican consultant Ron Bonjean told Human Events that McDonnell???s 2010 election may be an indicator that Virginia is ready to swing Republican once more.
???In rebuke to Obama???s far-left agenda, the state voted a Republican governor into office,??? he said. ???What you have now is a very volatile state; it???s now in the toss-up category. What could put it over in the Romney camp is the issue of jobs and the economy and the defense industry in the state.???
Fight heats up
Bonjean said he believed the message about the dangers of sequestration and Obama???s link to the coming disaster had yet to take a solid hold in advertising, but in some ways that fight was just beginning to heat up. ???After Congress returns, the fiscal cliff is going to be looming,??? he said. ???The trend is in Romney???s direction, but he???ll have to seal the deal.???
A political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Geoff Skelley, said the fight for Virginia was quickly becoming more than just a matchup over a swing state. Republican Senate candidate George Allen has also begun to discuss sequestration on the campaign trail as he faces off against Democratic opponent Tim Kaine for a key seat in Congress.
???If Romney wins Virginia, Allen will win,??? Skelley said.
In the Center???s ???Crystal Ball??? campaign model, curated by director Larry Sabato, Virginia is listed as the third most important state to win in November, Skelley said. But having been carried by Obama by a relatively significant six-percent margin in 2008, it could also be the bellwether of a Republican turnaround, he said.
???For Romney, winning Virginia means he???s also going to win Ohio and Florida,??? Skelley said. ???It seems like Virginia really could be the state that decides things.???