7 aug. 2008

McSame in Virginia

“The fact that even Virginia is up for grabs tells you a lot,” said Josef Jazvic, a 39 years old technology worker, volunteering at the Barack Obama 2008 campaign. “It’s time for a change,” he says to every Virginian offering to register for the presidential elections in November. It’s Fredericksburg Fair and the Friday-crowds enter the fairgrounds in that part that divides the state in the conservative south and the liberal north.
Virginia hasn’t voted for a Democratic candidate since 44 years. GWB carried the state with a 9 and 8 points lead. By now the campaigns of Obama and McCain agree: Virginia is a new swing state, just like Ohio, Florida and other battlegrounds. Where you have to fight there is a burst of political activity. How to win?
Barack Obama has held his first big rally in Prince William County, the second most populous county and thus critical for winning the state. Across the state he opened 28 offices for his 10.000 volunteers to deliver its 13 electoral votes.
McCain’s national headquarter is in Arlington where they try to mobilize the conservative core that other Republicans has taken for granted. Now McCain is seriously considering to pick a Virginian as his running mate and so does Obama too.
Governor Tomothy M. Kaine is a leading contender to be Obama’s running mate and he says: “If you had told me four years ago that a Democratic presidential candidate would be running a competitive race in Virginia and would open 10 offices, I would say that is spectacular.” Perhaps the Obama campaign can duplicate the success of Kaine, Senator James Webb and former Governor Mark R. Warner, leading a Democratic revival that would be complete with a Democratic win on presidential level. There is the lack of Bush’ popularity, the change of demographics in Northern Virginia, the high turnout of younger voters and African Americans and last but not least the giant volunteer base that delivered a big win in the Democratic primary.
The hope of the Republicans is their believe that the state remains inherently conservative, particularly at the presidential issue of national security. Yes, but times are changing.
In Northern Virginia the week of July 21, volunteers ran a nightly phone bank out of offices in Arlington and McLean. They also registered voters at Wolf Trap concerts, movie theaters, grocery stores and a farmer's market. They sent out hundreds of canvassers in the evenings and on weekends, held a house party in Fairfax for the Jewish community, and held issue discussions at restaurants in Arlington and Alexandria. For the past month, much of the Obama campaign's focus has been on registering voters. Virginia has recorded 147,000 new registrations this year -- it does not register by party -- and the campaign's goal is 150,000 more. It estimates that if 80 percent of those new registrants are for Obama, and that if 75 percent show up at the polls, that will mean a gain of more than 60,000 votes -- or an extra 1.75 percent, assuming turnout is around 3.5 million.
To further close the gap, the campaign is targeting what it calls "sporadic" Democrats -- potential supporters who missed at least one recent state-wide race and may need a nudge to turn out for Obama -- plus moderate Republicans and independents who may be tempted to cross over. To reach this second group, the campaign is using "micro-targeting" techniques popularized by the 2004 Bush campaign, divining voters' leanings through consumer preferences or other hints.
"For a race that's going to be as close as this is, it will take a lot of pieces of the puzzle for us to add to be successful," said Virginia campaign director Mitch Stewart, a South Dakota native who helped run Obama's primary campaigns in states including Iowa and Indiana.
For the McCain campaign, the challenge is holding on to as much of Bush's 2004 advantage as possible, particularly by trying to win back voters who favored the president but also voted for Warner, Kaine or Webb. It is being undertaken with a ground operation more limited in scope and more hierarchical than Obama's. The campaign, which as elsewhere is working in close concert with the Republican National Committee, has opened six offices state-wide, with three more on the way, on the theory that Obama's greater visibility is mostly for show and not worth the cost to match.
Its volunteer efforts are directed out of campaign headquarters and are organized into clearly delineated coalitions, such as veterans, sportsmen, social conservatives and young Republicans. On weekday evenings, 30 or so people from one of the groups take over the phones in McCain's offices in Crystal City, where both his national and Virginia headquarters are based.
"We run a very disciplined, methodical, structured organization," said Trey Walker, McCain's Mid-Atlantic director. "We are doing exactly what Republican campaigns have done in the past."

Of course and that will be the problem. It will convince voters that McCain is not someone else, but has to win a third term of the same Bush politics.