- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

Supporters of presumptive presidential nominees Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama are targeting unaffiliated voters in Virginia who could make the difference in November’s election.

We’re “reaching out not only to Republicans but to Democrats and independents who are open-minded and increasingly enthusiastic about the candidacy of John McCain,” said Carly Fiorina, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee Victory 2008 campaign. “While people are realizing that party unity is important, the direction of the country is more important.”

Republican officials on Wednesday announced the formation of a Virginia branch of their Citizens for McCain Coalition, an organization within the McCain campaign consisting of voters who are not Republicans.

Virginia is seen as a swing state that could decide the election in favor of either candidate, even though the last Democrat to claim the state’s electoral votes was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Nearly 226,000 voters have been added to the Virginia rolls between Dec. 2, 2004, and Aug. 1, according to the state Board of Elections. That has created a pool of potentially undecided voters for both parties to target.

Voters in Virginia do not register by party. But Christy Swanson, a Democrat and small-business owner in the Richmond area, said she decided to vote for Mr. McCain after hearing him speak at a summit in June.

Mr. McCain’s plan to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent “is huge in our arena,” said Mrs. Swanson, who serves as the vice chairwoman of the Virginia citizens coalition and will speak at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota on Wednesday.

“I am voting for John McCain even though I have traditionally voted Democrat and feel that he is best suited for the job with his experience,” Mrs. Swanson said. “And the support for small businesses is huge for me.”

Mrs. Fiorina said polls show that Mrs. Swanson is not alone among independent and Democratic voters pledging support for Mr. McCain, although Gallup Poll tracking data released Wednesday showed that the percentage of conservative Democrats now backing Mr. Obama has declined from 71 percent in June to 63 percent this month.

“There are millions of people who have never voted Republican before that are now voting for John McCain,” Mrs. Fiorina said.

The McCain campaign on Monday also released a television ad featuring a former delegate for Mr. Obama’s competitor in this year’s Democratic primary, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, pledging her support for Mr. McCain.

The 30-second spot comes as Mr. Obama is attempting to win over former Clinton supporters.

Obama campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis said McCain supporters should focus on maintaining their Republican base, given widespread dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and the difficult state of the economy.

“I think that they have a lot more to worry about in terms of keeping Republicans on their side,” Mr. Griffis said.

The Obama campaign has poured resources into Virginia, opening 36 offices for an operation that Mrs. Fiorina admitted is “much more expensive and labor intensive” than Mr. McCain’s. The campaign will open a 37th office this weekend in Bridgewater.

Mr. Griffis said officials are relying on grass-roots efforts by volunteers in those communities to target independents and moderate Republicans disillusioned by Mr. McCain’s and the Bush administration’s policies on topics like abortion, the Iraq war and the federal budget.

“The folks who are out there making that case are people from these individual communities,” Mr. Griffis said. “They know the neighborhood, they know the communities and they know who they’re talking to.”

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