2012 ELECTION

Virginia battleground state

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The Obama campaign argues that the stakes are higher here for Romney. "We can win without Virginia, but we don't think we need to," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. "The truth is we have several pathways to get to 270 electoral votes."

Virginia's prominent role in the 2012 presidential election follows a decade of political and demographic changes that make this fall's outcome difficult to predict.

Although Democrats had not aggressively competed in a Virginia presidential contest for a generation, Obama carried the state by 6 percentage points over Republican John McCain in 2008, based on an outpouring of the state's high African American vote and heavy turnout in the metropolitan Washington area.

Before Obama, no Democrat had won Virginia since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Republican George W. Bush had carried it easily, by 8 percentage points, in 2000 and 2004.

"Over the last 10 years, there has been a progression. It has gone from solidly red to trending blue to settling right in the middle. It's about the most-purple shade of purple you can find," said Virginia-based Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee.

Virginia has a high black-voter base. But the state is also home to a growing number of younger, well-educated voters flocking to northern Virginia, the region where Obama is credited with winning the state - and that makes it competitive again in 2012.

Obama carried the metropolitan Washington area of northern Virginia by 260,000 votes, about the same margin as he carried the entire state.

Obama is hoping again to turn out big numbers in burgeoning suburbs such as Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, to offset the rising GOP tide elsewhere, where Romney is hoping he will prevail.

The political battle has already begun on the state's airwaves. While Romney has yet to buy any ads directly, the pro-Romney group, Restore Our Future, has spent $354,000 in Virginia on a television advertising campaign that began running statewide Thursday.

The ad highlights Romney's role in helping to find his business partner's lost daughter. The Obama campaign spent $270,000 for a new ad - its third so far in Virginia - that began running statewide this week and accuses Romney of sending jobs overseas during his business career, reminding voters that the former Massachusetts governor had a Swiss bank account.

Virginia-based Republican strategist Chris LaCivita suggests that Obama is likely worried about his chances in Virginia if he's already using attack ads. But like others here, he says it's too early to make any predictions.

"To assume Virginia is going to go Republican is a dangerous thing to do," he said.

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