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Why Virginia may be a Deciding Factor in This Year’s Election

Changing demographics and the weight of Northern Virginia turn Virginia "purple" this year and make the commonwealth a swing state to watch.

In the past few weeks, both President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have visited Virginia and said that the swing state may be one of the deciding states in this year’s election.

It’s known that there are several key states in the electoral college this year. Ohio — which is also a swing state — and Florida are both crucial states along with a few others. No Republican president has ever won the election without winning Ohio.

Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said Virginia is now one of those swing states that will likely determine the outcome of this year’s election.

One reason: Virginia voters had not chosen a Democrat for president since the 1960s, but then-candidate Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008. "It revealed how much the changing demographics of the Old Dominion were remaking its politics. His winning margin in Virginia, 53 percent to 46 percent, was identical to his national numbers," NPR reported earlier this year.

Potential factors this year: Virginia has a low unemployment rate compared to other states. Sequestration could really affect the local economy in Northern Virginia. And, there is an increasing minority population in the state. Statistically, minorities tended to vote for Obama in 2008, according to The Brookings Institution.

In addition, Northern Virginia voters are accounting for more votes than in past years as the region's population grows. According to "Red State, Blue State," a report from the University of Virginia, Northern Virginia "accounted for just over a quarter of votes cast in the commonwealth in 2008 and may account for a third of all votes cast in 2012."

“The polling data show that it has been a close election in Virginia throughout this campaign season,” said Rozell. “Some polls show the president pulling ahead in Virginia right now, but not by a large enough margin.”

A recent poll conducted by Suffolk University/WWBT-Richmond shows that Obama has a slight edge over Romney in Virginia, with a 46-44 percent lead. Seven percent were undecided.

It’s quite possible under some circumstances that this election would come down to one state and Virginia would be it, Rozell explained. He also said that it’s important for both candidates to treat several key states as “do-or-die situations” because the difference in one state could very well determine the outcome.

In addition, Virgil Goode, a presidential nominee for the conservative Constitution Party, recently qualified for the Virginia ballot, according to The New York Times. This may cause some complications for Romney in this key swing state.

“As a third party candidate he may stir some things up a bit,” said Rozell. “He could siphon off a percent or two from presumably Romney, so there’s that wild card factor.”

Join Northern Virginia Patch editors at Busboys and Poets in the Shirlington area of Arlington Wednesday, Oct. 3 to watch the first presidential debate between Obama and Romney. Domestic issues and the economy are on the agenda. You could get free Patch prizes and free food and drinks (while supplies last). 

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