Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Obama makes move into the conservative deep South.

It's astonishing enough to imagine a Democrat seriously contesting a seat in the deep South, but it's even more astonishing to see a black Democratic candidate doing so. But to find that the fact that he is doing so is forcing the Republican candidate to start campaigning there - as the seat can no longer be taken for granted - is simply stunning.

And yet that's the situation in Virginia:

Two candidates on the same day in a state not seriously contested for the presidency in 44 years; Wilder, the state's former Democratic governor, does the maths and smiles. "John McCain is here now," he says. "You know why? Because he has to campaign in Virginia. He can't take it for granted."

With its 13 electoral college votes Virginia is a weighty addition to the battleground states - roughly the equivalent of winning New Hampshire, Nevada and New Mexico together. It could not be closer. Of the last six polls both Obama and McCain have led in three each. To the south North Carolina is also shaping up to be a tight race. No Democrat has won there for 32 years and Bush took the state four years ago by 12 points. Obama has 31 offices in the state and the latest poll shows a tie.

"I see a crack in the solid South," says Wilder, the first African American to be elected as a state governor. "I see a crack. And the fissure is taking place right here in Virginia ... to be considered a toss-up state this close to the election is amazing. We might influence North Carolina or Georgia. If we get either one of the states it's big."

The Republicans are seeking to write these attempts by Obama off as arrogance financed by deep pockets, but it's very interesting to see that McCain, rather than laugh off Obama's attempts to infiltrate the South, is instead, finding himself campaigning in Virginia on the exact same day as Obama does.

And Obama is spreading his message in places where one would never expect a Democratic candidate to go.

Back in Richmond volunteers turn up at Broad Rock Library on many a weeknight, to collect campaign materials to go canvassing and registering. Obama has been hoping that this ground game of person-to-person contact will counter the Republican machine. The voter registration drives seem to be paying off. Virginia has seen more than 250,000 more voters registered since January. Most of this rise has taken place in Democratic counties. In North Carolina Democratic registration has leaped 7% while Republicans have risen 1%. The young and the black are over-represented in the increases.

Registering young and black voters is one thing. Getting them to the polls is another. This is one reason why the polls have been particularly unreliable.

And one of the reasons for the general Republican nonchalance is their belief that race alone will keep the South safe for them, even as McCain's actions show that it's a belief that he does not necessarily share.

"The Bubba vote is there," former Republican House majority leader Dick Armey told USA Today recently. "And it's very real ... there's an awful lot of people in America, bless their heart, who simply are not emotionally prepared to vote for a black man."

Armey says those voters are "invisible" in the polls because they would not admit they opposed Obama because of his race. "I really want to say it's not going to play a big role," said Muse. "But it is."

Armey's not even attempting to hide the fact that he agrees with this way of thinking as he "blesses their hearts" for thinking this way. And the fact that he states, "I really want to say it's not going to play a big role", whilst hoping with all his heart that it does, is simply blatant.

But, if we learnt anything from Obama during his primary battle with Hillary it is that his polling is usually spot on.

He's pulled out of Georgia, no doubt because his figures told him he was wasting his time there, but he remains in Virginia, and he's doing so for the exact same reason. His polling - even at this late stage - is telling him that he might just pull an upset here.

And, the fact that McCain is also in Virginia, says that Obama might just have a point.

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