The battle for Virginia

The Washington Post takes another look at the battle for Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. The article generally supports my sense that the state’s fundamentals favor McCain, while the “ground game” favors Obama.

Looking at the last three statewide races — Bush plus 8 points in 2004, Kaine plus 6 percentage points in 2005, and Webb plus half of a point in 2006 — I conclude that a race in 2008 between a generic Democrat and a generic Republican would be a toss-up. However, Obama is not a generic Democrat for purposes of Virginia. Substantively, he much more closely resembles John Kerry than he does Tim Kaine or Jim Webb. And it’s far from clear that his charismatic, egocentric style will play well with Virginia’s swing voters.

Meanwhile, there’s a good case that McCain is stronger in Virginia than a generic Republican would be. On the minus side, he is probably less appealing than average to the conservative base, excluding members of the military and their famiiies. However, the military represents an important bloc of voters in Virginia. Moreover, McCain should have more cross-over appeal than the unsuccessful Jerry Kilgore, George Allen (post-macaca), and even the George Bush of 2004.

But this doesn’t take into account Obama’s ground game. The Post suggests that it’s formidable, and I have no reason to doubt it. For example, the Obama campaign has apparently been quite successful in its voter registration efforts. So far Virginia has 150,000 new registered voters and the campaign hopes to double that number. The campaign’s idea is that if 80 percent of these folks favor Obama and 75 percent of them vote, the pick-up will be 60,000 or an extra 1.75 percent (assuming a turnout of 3.5 million).

Both candidates reportedly are considering selecting a Virginian for vice president. It’s difficult to see Eric Cantor, a congressman, helping McCain much in the state. Gov. Kaine might help bring Obama closer to “generic Democrat” status, but only slightly so I suspect.

For what it’s worth, my view is that fundamentals usually trump ground game. So if the race is close (say within four percentage points) nationally, I’d expect McCain to squeak by in Virginia, at least if Kaine isn’t on the ticket. And if it’s not as close as that nationally, Virginia may not matter very much.

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