Virginia Garners Attention As New Battleground State

President Obama campaigns is campaigning in Ohio, Florida and Virginia. While Ohio and Florida are perennial battlegrounds, Virginia has emerged as one of this year's most important contests. Volunteers backing President Obama fanned out across the state over the weekend, looking to line up support.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. President Obama is campaigning in three swing states this week - today, Ohio; tomorrow, Florida and Virginia. Ohio and Florida have long been in that swing state category. But for decades, Virginia was dependably Republican - until Obama won the state in 2008. NPR's Scott Horsley met some of the foot soldiers in this new political battleground.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING ON DOOR)

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: It's a blazing hot afternoon in Richmond, Virginia's Church Hill neighborhood, a racially mixed community of older homes - some; freshly renovated; others, in need of repair. Tyler Brown holds a clipboard in one hand as he wipes a sweaty palm on his shorts.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hello.

TYLER BROWN: Hi. How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi. How are you?

BROWN: Good. I'm here with the Obama campaign, and we're out here just making sure that people are registered to vote today.

Yeah. Me and my husband, we're both registered.

All right, great.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Thank you.

HORSLEY: Brown volunteered for the Obama campaign after moving to Richmond just a few months ago. He's a big fan of the president, he says, and knocking on doors for Mr. Obama seemed like a good way to get to know his neighborhood.

BROWN: Most people around here seem generally supportive. A lot of people are already registered to vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING ON DOOR)

BROWN: Hello. I'm here with the Obama campaign. Currently registered to vote?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah, all three of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

BROWN: All right. Well, you all have a good one.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You too. You want some water or anything?

HORSLEY: Brown gratefully accepts a plastic cup filled with ice water.

BROWN: Turned down the last two glasses.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

BROWN: Can't turn down the third.

HORSLEY: Four years ago, Brown was living in North Carolina - where he learned the importance of corralling every possible vote. Mr. Obama won the Tar Heel State that year, by fewer than 14,000 votes. That's less than one-half of 1 percent. Virginia's race in 2008 was less of a nail-biter, but just as much of an upset. Mr. Obama was the first Democrat to carry the state since Lyndon Johnson.

RUY TEIXEIRA: This is not your father's Virginia. This is a very different Virginia.

HORSLEY: Demographer Ruy Teixeira, of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, credits Mr. Obama's win to the changing face of Virginia - with more Latinos, more African-Americans, and fewer blue-collar whites. The campaign is counting on a similar voter makeup in 2012, and not just in Virginia.

TEIXEIRA: Virginia shows that you can take a state that had not voted Democratic forever - practically - and turn it into at minimum, a very competitive purple state.

HORSLEY: But the young and minority voters who turned Virginia purple, don't automatically show up to vote. Many stayed home in 2009 and '10; and an older, whiter group of voters handed big gains to Republicans. Much of the Obama campaign operation is designed to prevent that from happening this year.

MAAB IBRAHIM: You fired up?

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEERS: Fired up!

IBRAHIM: Ready to go?

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEERS: Ready to go!

IBRAHIM: Go register some voters!

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEERS: All right! Woo! (APPLAUSE)

HORSLEY: At the Obama campaign office in Richmond, Maab Ibrahim is training about 40 volunteers to register voters. In addition to filling out the official state forms, the campaign keeps its own list - with contact information for every person it signs up.

IBRAHIM: That's how we'll make sure that everyone has a ride to the polls. This is how we will follow up with people; make sure that they got their forms to us. We'll make sure that we have everyone that we registered accountable - for.

HORSLEY: This kind of outreach is not glamorous. It's tedious, time-consuming and sweaty - on a hot, summer day. It could also be decisive, come November. With few undecided voters left to persuade this year, the race could hinge on turnout. Virginia Republicans are busy with their own efforts to find and mobilize voters.

RYAN THOMAS: (Speaking on telephone) Question number one is, do you approve or disapprove of how Barack Obama is handling his job as president?

HORSLEY: Ryan Thomas is volunteering at a GOP phone bank in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.

THOMAS: I care about the direction of where our country is headed, and I just want to get involved and put my money where my mouth is, so to say.

HORSLEY: Voters in Florida and Ohio are used to this kind of attention, but Virginians are just discovering what it's like to be caught in a political tug-of-war. They'd better get used to it. It's only going to intensify in the three months before Election Day. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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