Against this tense backdrop, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are dueling over the size of government and defense cuts, pouring tens of millions of dollars into this crucial battleground, a state where military spending adds enormous sums to the local economy. The winner will claim Virginia's 13 critical electoral votes â¿¿ and most likely, better odds for capturing the White House.
SHIFTING POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
Four years ago, Obama broke a 44-year GOP grip on Virginia with a decisive 6.3 point win over John McCain.
The president cobbled together a coalition of minorities, young people and college-educated white voters (women more than men) in the affluent suburbs across the Potomac River from the nation's capital, a Democratic-leaning, fast-growing area. Here in Loudoun County, for instance, the population skyrocketed 84 percent in the decade ending in 2010.
Obama scored victories, too, in the Hampton Roads region, home to the world's largest U.S. Naval base in Norfolk, along with many active duty and retired military. It was a stunning defeat for McCain, a Navy veteran.
Changing demographics also made the state friendly territory for Obama. The Latino population in Virginia jumped 92 percent from 2000 to 2010. Minorities now account for 27 percent of eligible voters in this state that was home to the Confederate capital.
The constituencies that propelled the president to victory remain, but enthusiasm has waned and Democrats expect a much closer race this time. Polls show Obama with a slight edge or virtually tied with Romney.
"Things are probably more competitive, just as they are nationally," says Peter Brodnitz, a Democratic pollster working in the Senate campaign of former Gov. Tim Kaine. "I don't think it's a repeat of 2008 when the wind was blowing strongly in just one direction."
The state's economy, though, shouldn't be a drag on the president.