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Obama Kicks Off General In Virginia

By Reid Wilson and Kyle Trygstad

BRISTOW, Virginia -- Making his second appearance of the general election in what he hopes will be a crucial swing state, Barack Obama invoked the optimistic legacies of John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman before an enthusiastic crowd while taking a tough line with his Republican opponent, John McCain.

Obama sought to define change, the bedrock catchword that has propelled his campaign from the beginning, and two days after McCain tried to coopt Obama's theme in a New Orleans speech. "It's not change when you offer four more years of George Bush economic policies," Obama said Thursday. "It's not change when John McCain promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians."

The rally at the Nissan Pavilion, a concert venue in Northern Virginia with a 25,000-seat capacity, was Obama's second stop of the day in Virginia. Earlier, Obama joined Rep. Rick Boucher and former Gov. Mark Warner, who is running for Senate this year, for an event in Bristol, on the Tennessee border, that attracted 20,000.

At his earlier speech, and again last night, Obama went out of his way to congratulate Hillary Clinton, who plans to throw her support to the Illinois senator at a Washington rally on Saturday. There are few "smarter, more diligent, more dedicated to the cause of lifting up those in need," Obama said of Clinton. "My two daughters see themselves differently because she ran for President of the United States." Later last night, media reports indicate the two met at a secret location in Washington.

Virginia, which has not voted Democratic in a presidential election since 1964, could prove crucial to Obama's chances in November. With his recent primary loss in West Virginia and consistently poor primary performances among traditionally Democratic-leaning working class voters, especially in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Obama could be forced to explore previously Republican territory like the Old Dominion.

"Barack Obama is going to win Virginia this fall, and he's going to win the presidency," Sen. Jim Webb predicted while introducing Obama.

Obama won Virginia's primary on February 12 by a wide margin. The state has moved increasingly Democratic in recent years, with the party buoyed by an influx of new, more liberal voters in suburban and exurban Washington, as well as by new Democratic, and largely African American voters in the Hampton Roads region. Northern Virginia has become increasingly influential in state elections, as about one-third of all voters reside here.

In the past seven years, Democrats have won the governor's mansion twice, captured a Senate seat and, most recently, won control of the state Senate. If Warner wins the state's other Senate seat, as he's expected to do, Democrats will hold the state's top three elected positions.

McCain leads Obama by 1.3 points in the latest RCP Virginia Average, but Democrats have long ranked Virginia near the top of their wish list of states to pick up, and for the first time in 10 elections they appear poised to do so.

"We think we are going to be very competitive in Virginia and in other states where Republicans have fared well recently because Barack Obama's message is resonating with folks of all political persuasion," said Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, "whether they live in the purple districts of the exurbs or the ruby red districts of southwest Virginia, who are looking for real change in the tone of our politics and the direction of our country."

After being introduced by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Sen. Jim Webb, Obama worked through his usual stump speech, employing Martin Luther King's famous line, "The fierce urgency of now," and his own line, "We cannot wait," in explaining why he ran for president.

Shortly after Obama announced his candidacy on Feb. 10, 2007, Kaine was one of the first elected officials in the country to publicly back him. Obama had previously campaigned for Kaine during his run for the governorship in 2005 and also appeared with Webb during his 2006 upset of then-Senator George Allen.

Both Kaine, with executive experience as a governor, and Webb, who boasts national security credentials, have been mentioned as possible running mates for Obama. As the Democratic nominee spoke glowingly of Kaine and Webb, some in the crowd shouted: "VP! VP!" Public opinion polls have showed both men with high favorable and job performance ratings, and both could help Obama pickup Virginia's 13 electoral votes.

"Senator Webb and Governors Kaine and Warner have been powerful voices for real change in the Commonwealth for many years," Sevugan said. "[W]e look forward to having their voices continue to help carry Barack Obama's message to Virginians."

Following his two speeches in Virginia, Obama will spend the weekend at his home in Chicago with no public events planned.

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Reid Wilson and Kyle Trygstad
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