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Topics: Barack Obama

With the White House at stake, Virginia is back to a nail-biter

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Photo - A Secret Service agent looks on as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Fairfax. (Getty Images)
A Secret Service agent looks on as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Fairfax. (Getty Images)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Barack Obama,2012 Elections,Bob McDonnell,Larry Sabato,Mitt Romney

Virginians in a few weeks may well decide who wins the White House and control of the U.S. Senate, but they are just as confused and anxious about how it will turn out on Nov. 6 as the rest of the nation.

Fairfax resident Linda Chernisky knocks on doors for Democrats but sees Republicans swaying a lot of voters. Harriet Hunt, of Loudoun County, plans to vote for Republican Mitt Romney but said her husband will nullify that by voting for President Obama.

Such is the story across Virginia. While most states appear to be breaking for one presidential candidate or another, Virginia has tightened as the campaigns enter their final three weeks.

After maintaining a narrow lead for most of 10 months, Obama is now tied with Romney in most polls, with some even giving the Republican a slight edge.

In the state's marquee Senate race, Democrat Tim Kaine is once again in a dead heat with Republican rival George Allen after pulling ahead last month. The fate of that contest is largely tied to the presidential race, and Romney's improved standing has helped Allen.

"[Romney] certainly continues to show strength in the suburbs, and the Beltway counties have been a real source of effort over the last couple weeks," said Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who won the state 12 months after it voted for Obama in 2008. "Those exurbs are critical."

Romney's winning performance in his first debate with Obama fueled his rise in the polls and further muddled an already foggy picture in Virginia.

Virginia is a state with a lower unemployment rate than most, leaving voters split on who would handle the economy better. Many voters with ties to the military are also wary of looming defense cuts, which some pin on Obama.

"The reason why it has stayed so close in Virginia is because of these contradictory trends," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

It's also difficult to determine precisely where Obama and Romney stand in Virginia because, unlike other battleground states, Virginia has very limited early voting. And it means Virginia voters may be up for grabs longer than those in other battlegrounds.

"People here actually watch all four acts before writing a review," Sabato said. "That's a major difference. Who it helps depends on the later stages of the campaign."

At 31 stops in Virginia over the last 30 days, Obama, Romney, their vice presidential running mates and their wives have visited Virginia more than any other state but Florida. Obama has already spent $37 million to air ads in Virginia, and Romney has spent $21 million, according to the National Journal. Outside groups, most of them backing Romney, are spending millions more.

Before Obama's historic victory in 2008, Republicans carried Virginia in every presidential election since Lyndon B. Johnson's landslide in 1964. This year, Romney has few paths to the White House that don't include winning Virginia.

For Obama, Virginia's 13 electoral college votes aren't a necessity, but they would make winning much easier. Democrats are happy to be forcing Romney to spend time and money in a once reliably red state.

"That's a byproduct of how competitive Virginia is," said state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran. "It presents us not only the opportunity to win Virginia but also ensures Republicans have to spend time in Virginia."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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