US Presidential Election and the Great Virginia Divide

US Presidential Election and the Great Virginia Divide
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

For more than forty years, Virginians voted only Republicans into the White House, and then came President Obama. Playing to the new urban liberals in the Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation's capital, Mr. Obama won 53 percent of the vote to John McCain's 46 percent.

While Ohio has taken much of the focus of this election cycle, Virginia is still crucial. Even if Republican Governor Mitt Romney wins Ohio, he will still need Virginia's thirteen electoral votes to put him over the top. A victory here comes down to the winner of that battle between North and South.

Virginia's population has grown from 7.7 million in 2008 to 8 million in 2010, according to the U.S. Census, but much of the gains have come in the North. Northern Virginia's urban, increasingly liberal population has grown 23 percent in the past decade, as builders put up thousands of condo units a stone's throw from the National Mall. Northern Virginia's suburbs have also grown dramatically, as home builders banked on a new tech sector and the relative low unemployment fueled by government jobs.

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But the south, which includes the cities of Richmond and Norfolk, is still strongly in the Republican corner. Witness that just one year after the state helped put President Obama in the White House, voters elected Republican Governor Robert McDonnell.

The great divide can also be seen in a tight Senate race here between two former Virginia governors, Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R). They are fighting for the seat being vacated by James Webb, a Democrat who beat George Allen in the senate race back in 2006. This is one of the hotly contested seats that could determine leadership of the Senate.

With so much of the Senate's work in the coming term focussed on issues in the economy, leadership is more crucial than ever. From the fiscal cliff to the extension of the Bush tax cuts, Wall Street will be depending on Congress, where Republicans hold a strong lead in the House of Representatives, but where Democrats have held on to the Senate.

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Virginians are particularly focused on Congress as well, since sequestration, and a potential $50 billion in defense cuts could hit them hard. In the South, Norfolk depends on its ship building industry, and in the North, both Northrup Grumman and of course the Pentagon account for thousands of jobs. The Senate race has been extremely tight from the start, with Kaine outspending Allen but Allen hoping to ride on Governor Romney's coattails.

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That ride, however, is nowhere near certain, as polls up to election day showed Obama with a very slight lead. The two have crisscrossed the state, with Obama holding nine rallies to Romney's ten since August 31, 2012. The candidates, their spouses and running mates have made over 90 appearances in Virginia this year, and Romney chose to announce Paul Ryan as candidate for Vice President in Norfolk. Virginia television stations have reaped the rewards of this close race, taking in over $131 million in advertising revenue from both candidates.

Polls in Virginia close at 7pm Eastern Time, so early results here could help point to a winner.