- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

The neck-and-neck race for the presidency on Wednesday pushed both candidates into enemy territory in the battleground commonwealth of Virginia, with Sen. Barack Obama scouring for votes in the conservative, military-heavy southeast and Sen. John McCain working the liberal northern suburbs of Washington.

The Republican nominee packed his largest crowd to date into a Fairfax park — an estimated 23,000 supporters — where he declared the importance of the state in November’s election.

“Virginia is a battleground state, and we must win it — and we will win it!” he yelled to the throng in Old Town’s Van Dyke Park.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama wound up a two-day blitz through the state, traveling from the southwest corner of Virginia to Norfolk, home to the world’s largest U.S. Navy base that Mr. McCain, a former Navy pilot, hopes to carry. There, he held an education forum, but steered clear of campaigning, although his supporters in Fairfax didn’t.

“Virginians are sick and tired of the Bush-McCain politics of the last eight years,” said state Delegate Kristen Amundson. “We want leaders who will deliver results and bring change to Washington. That’s why Barack Obama has put the commonwealth in play, because he’ll bring the change we need to this country.”

Although Virginia has voted Republican in 13 of the last 14 presidential elections, the populous northern part of the state, along with the crescent between Richmond and the Hampton Roads region, has increasingly voted Democratic. President Bush won Virginia twice by more than eight points, but Democratic Sen. John Kerry took Fairfax County in 2004 by seven points — the first time the party had won there since 1964.

The most recent polls show the state is up for grabs, statistically tied, and Mr. McCain desperately needs to hold on to its 13 electoral votes to win in November. Obama aides acknowledge the fact that they will need a heavy turnout of black voters to win. But while blacks make up about 20 percent of the state’s population, they usually cast just 14 percent of the votes.

The other key for the Democrat is Northern Virginia, which is becoming a party stronghold. The city of Alexandria and Arlington County went for Mr. Kerry 2-1 over Mr. Bush last election, and Democrats are hoping that the exodus westward to Loudoun and Prince William counties will put those into play this fall.

The Democratic nominee is well-aware of Virginia’s importance: Mr. Obama has been making campaign stops across the state for more than 18 months, and in the last few days hit rural Southwest Virginia, Roanoke and the Hampton Roads region, following his wife, who campaigned there last month.

Mr. Obama has opened more than 41 campaign offices across Virginia, including one in remote Castlewood — population 2,044 — perched in the state’s far southwest corner. The Democrat on Tuesday worked nearby Lebanon, a small city in Russell County that abuts the only two counties in the southwest that went Democrat in 2004.

Campaigning with former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who persuaded two high-tech companies, CGI and Northrop Grumman Inc., to move to the coal-mining and farming region, Mr. Obama cited the town as an example of his “hope and change” message. Unfortunately, he also uttered the phrase “lipstick on a pig,” which the McCain campaign used to accuse the Illinois senator of attacking vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

The comment, called “sexist” by Obama opponents, clearly stirred some women in the crowd at the McCain event in Fairfax. One woman held a sign that said: “A VP With Lipstick Is Still a VP.” A man held aloft a sign that said: “Real Men Love Women Who Wear Lipstick.”

Dr. Lynette Long, a former supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton, said from the podium that Mr. Obama is insulting women.

“Calling a girl a name is something you do in fifth grade, and I don’t want a fifth-grader running our country,” she said to cheers.

For their parts, Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin, reading from a teleprompter, stuck to their standard stump speeches.



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