2012 ELECTION

Virginia battleground state

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) - Move over Ohio and Florida. Virginia is becoming the hottest new battleground in this year's race for the White House.

Shifting demographics have President Barack Obama fighting for another win in this Southern state four years after he became the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry Virginia in more than four decades.

Republican rival Mitt Romney is banking on buyers' remorse as he works to prove that Obama's unlikely 2008 victory was a fluke.

Six months before Election Day, both sides concede that Virginia is truly up for grabs. And the outcome here could have dramatic consequences - for Romney especially.

"This may well be the state that decides who the next president is," Romney told supporters Thursday in coastal Portsmouth, Va. "You're going to hear it all, right here in Virginia."

Already, Romney allies and Obama's campaign are pouring money into television ads.

And, by week's end, each candidate will have visited the state. Romney spent two days campaigning here this week, his first Virginia trip since becoming his party's presumptive presidential nominee.

Obama will be in the state on Friday and Saturday -what his aides are calling his first formal day of campaigning - before traveling to Ohio.

Four years ago, Obama executed a winning strategy by registering and turning out scores of minorities and young voters who long had sat on the political sidelines.

This year, Virginia - perhaps more so than any other state - will test whether he can cobble together a similar winning coalition amidst shifting demographics and despite a challenging economic environment.

Virginia has swung dramatically right in the years since the Democratic president took office - so much so, that Romney aides suggest that the state has become a lynchpin in their national path to victory.

"It's an important key in the overall map," Romney's political director, Rich Beeson, said. Republican insiders go further, saying that it's hard to see Romney reaching the 270 electoral votes needed without the 13 that Virginia provides.

Indeed, an Obama win here could prove devastating for Romney, whose team understands the challenge of unseating a sitting president who has tremendous financial and organizational advantages.

Already, Obama has established a comprehensive ground game in Virginia, with more than 13 offices spread across the state.

Romney, who spent most of the year consumed by a bitter and expensive Republican primary, has yet to open one. Beeson said Thursday that the Romney campaign would be "up and running" in Virginia in the "next week or two."

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