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Obama Campaign Ramps Up Efforts Early In Virginia

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Obama Campaign Ramps Up Efforts Early In Virginia

Obama Campaign Ramps Up Efforts Early In Virginia

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As Republicans extend their primary contest, President Obama is preparing for the general election. His campaign is opening offices, lining up volunteers and identifying supporters in key states - swing states, including Virginia, where on this Super Tuesday Republicans are voting while Democrats are busy. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Mitt Romney is heavily favored to win today's Virginia primary. Republican rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich didn't even make it on the ballot. So the Romney campaign has not invested a great deal in get-out-the-vote efforts. Still, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who chairs the campaign in the state, says organizational efforts will ramp up for the more competitive race in November.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR BILL BOLLING: Governor Romney understands and frankly President Obama understands that Virginia's going to be one of about a half-dozen states who likely decide who the next president will be.

HORSLEY: Four years ago, President Obama won Virginia by 6 points, the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson to carry the state. He was helped by a big turnout of African-America voters, young voters and Democrats from the fast-growing suburbs of Washington, D.C. But in the years since then, many of those voters stayed home, and an older, whiter electorate gave Republicans full control of the Virginia State House.

Political analyst Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia, says which party wins in November depends a lot on who shows up to vote.

PROFESSOR LARRY SABATO: There's very little Obama can do to minimize his losses in the rural parts of Virginia. He's going to lose overwhelmingly there. He simply has to pump up the vote in the urban corridor, which stretches from Northern Virginia through Richmond into Tidewater.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's grassroots campaign is already hard at work on that. Volunteers have been hosting house parties and staffing phone banks to find and mobilize the president's supporters. The campaign has already opened five offices around Virginia. And that's not counting the basement of Sue Langley's house, where more than a dozen volunteers assembled this past weekend.

SUE LANGLEY: Hi, how are you. Could you sign in?

HORSLEY: Langley, who's wearing a Women for Obama T-shirt, hands out clipboards full of voter registration forms, along with ballpoint pens and other provisions for a long day of signing up voters.

LANGLEY: Everyone have a lunch bag. So make sure if I forget pick up a lunch bag.

HORSLEY: Teams are assigned to a local supermarket, an apartment building and a community center. I tag along with Carol Lewis, who's been doing this for a couple of hours every week.

CAROL LEWIS: Good morning, Ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Good morning.

LEWIS: How are you? My name is Carol and I'm working for Organizing for America. Are you ready to vote November 6th?


LEWIS: You are?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, I'm already signed up.

LEWIS: OK, great. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You're welcome.

HORSLEY: Lewis, who's African-American, works for a software company and has three grown children. She's particularly grateful for the president's health care effort, which allowed her to keep one son on her company's insurance policy. It's a story she tells often when talking with her neighbors.

LEWIS: My neighbors are very much behind President Obama. And I'm actually trying to recruit them to work with me on this campaign.

HORSLEY: Many of the people Lewis approaches in this affluent suburb are already registered to vote. But she finds a prospect outside an Asian restaurant.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I just turned 18 so I haven't registered.

LEWIS: Bless you, my child.


LEWIS: Would you like to do so now?


LEWIS: OK, it's only going take you just a couple of minutes.


HORSLEY: Volunteer activities like this not only help find new voters. They also helped keep Mr. Obama's existing supporters engaged with the campaign.

So far, Romney has no similar grassroots effort and just one campaign office in Virginia to Mr. Obama's five. Still, State Chairman Bolling is confident that Romney's message will prevail in November.

BOLLING: Virginians understand the most important issue facing the country today is the need to get the economy moving again and create jobs, the need to get federal spending under control, bring down the national debt.

HORSLEY: That message is a little dicey in Virginia, though, where one in every three dollars spent comes from the federal government, and that federal spending has kept unemployment well below the national average.

On Friday, President Obama plans to talk about the economic gains nationwide when new monthly jobs numbers come out. He'll be speaking in Virginia.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.


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