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High-stakes states

"High-stakes states" Continued...

Virginia (13 electoral votes)

Obama won the state by 7 points in 2008, but don’t expect that kind of victory this year. That win four years ago marked the first time the Republican presidential candidate had lost Virginia since 1964. In fact, 2008 and 1964 are was the only presidential election years that Virginia went Democrat between 1952 and 2008.

But Virginia is no longer a reliable Republican state. Changing demographics—particularly in Northern Virginia near the nation’s capitol where a growing population of minority and younger voters favor the Democrats—helped Obama win. Republicans continue to have the advantage among the state’s rural voters in the south and southwestern parts of the state.

In short, Virginia is a divided state politically.

The state’s unemployment rate of 5.9 percent is lower than the national average, but there are swaths of rural Virginia that suffer from double-digit unemployment.

The regions that went for Obama in 2008—Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads/Eastern Shore, and the central part of the state—had the biggest increase in registered voters over the last four years, totaling nearly 215,000 added to the rolls. Still, the years since 2008 have been more favorable to Republicans in Virginia: Republican Bob McDonnell won the governorship in 2009 (capturing 53 percent of the Northern Virginia vote), Virginia Republicans won back three House seats in the 2010 midterm election, and Republicans won control of the state Senate in 2011.

Virginia is home to 800,000 military veterans, the highest concentration in the country, and military families have concerns over deep Pentagon cuts set to take effect next year.

Wisconsin (10 electoral votes)

More than 72 percent of registered voters here cast ballots in the 2008 presidential race—the second highest turnout rate in the nation. Now four years later, Wisconsin voters who go to the polls will find one of their own listed on the presidential ballot: vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Romney’s tapping of the Wisconsin congressman helps boost Republican chances in a state where the last Republican to win was Ronald Reagan in 1984. While Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2008 each won Wisconsin by less than a percentage point, Obama won by nearly 14 percentage points in 2008. Wisconsin contains 31 counties where the majority voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 but went for Obama in 2008—the most of any state. Romney’s bid to recapture those counties will be aided by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who won the governorship in 2010 and then won a recall election this June after labor unions tried to oust him from office. The groundwork laid by Republicans for the Walker battles should benefit Romney on Tuesday as conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity have already cultivated thousands of grassroots activists in the state. Republicans also took a U.S. Senate seat and two House seats away from Democrats here in 2010.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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