Obama Campaign Already Hard at Work in Virginia

Obama Campaign Already Hard at Work in Virginia

By Alexis Simendinger - June 13, 2011

"Why is it important to start so early?" Obama campaign aide Brandyn Keating said as she made a pitch to about 18 prospective volunteers and a few curious onlookers June 8 at a noisy restaurant just a few miles from the nation's capital.

Keating, wearing a gray pantsuit on a boiling hot day, her blond hair pulled back in a tight chignon, answered her own question, raising her voice above the din to make a conversational case for President Obama's governing record in front of a polite audience of Latinos. "We're reaching back to those who have already been engaged, and reaching forward to those who can be engaged," she explained in Arlington, Va. "We think that's very important."

Youthful and polished, Keating is the state director for the Democratic National Committee's Organizing for America operation in Virginia. For nearly a decade, Keating has been working to build grass-roots organizations around the country to benefit progressive causes and candidates. What seemed clever and new about the Obama grass-roots campaign nationwide in 2008 may be old hat by 2012; Republicans are using social media and sophisticated voter databases, too. But Keating and Obama's top campaign managers believe that labor-intensive personal persuasion, voter to voter, could again give Obama an edge in Virginia and other swing states.

Campaign manager Jim Messina tells Obama supporters in a videotaped message that "this campaign is only going to be as strong as the grass roots. We need to build a plan that works in 2011, and then at the end of the year we'll go re-plan again and make sure we're ready and go after it hard in 2012."

Faced with a weak national economy and what will assuredly be a well-financed opponent, Obama will need more than PowerPoint cheerleading videos disseminated via YouTube from Chicago, or Tweets and Facebook entreaties to recapture the same support he enjoyed in 2008 -- and to replace what may be lost because of divides over the job he's been doing.

And Virginia is important to Obama's chances. Its evolving demographics in the last decade made the difference for an Obama victory in 2008, but could swing the other way in 2012. As the Republican National Committee pointed out in a memo first published by The Washington Post last week, Virginia is one of nine states that Obama captured in 2008 and that George W. Bush won in 2004. The others are Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and North Carolina. Republican victories in Virginia and the other eight states since 2008 prove, according to the RNC, that "every one of these states is winnable for our 2012 nominee." In Virginia in 2008, Obama defeated Arizona Sen. John McCain by 53-46 percent -- a bellwether margin that mirrored the election results nationwide. Obama was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the Old Dominion -- and its 13 electoral votes -- in more than four decades. Lyndon Johnson preceded Obama, in 1964.

The Obama campaign is determined to reprise that success in 2012. The campaign similarly is eager to meet or beat the president's 13,692-vote squeaker in North Carolina, another evolving state that shares some campaign advertising media markets with Virginia along the border. Not since Jimmy Carter in 1976 was a Democratic nominee able to carry the Tar Heel state, which helps explain the Obama campaign's attraction to Charlotte, the site of next year's Democratic National Convention. On Monday, the president travels to Raleigh for a much publicized meeting between local business leaders and his advisory Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Republicans scoff at the president's efforts thus far to inoculate himself on the economy.

"Generally speaking, the voters are moving towards our Republican candidates and Republican ideals," David Rexrode, executive director of the Virginia Republican Party, said in an interview. He dismissed 2008 as "an off-year" for the GOP in Virginia and predicted Obama will lose there in 2012, in no small measure because of the overall economy, criticism of Obama's cap-and-trade energy agenda, and the business community's opposition in Virginia to the costs of last year's health reform law, which is to be fully implemented by 2014.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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