As Presidential Politics Shifts Into High Gear, Virginia Will Be a Target 

click to enlarge virginia_district-map.jpg

To paraphrase Bette Davis: Fasten your seat belts, Virginia. It’s going to be a bumpy, noisy fall.

After the red, white and blue balloons dropped late Thursday in the Wells Fargo Center closing the Democratic National Convention, the presidential election shifted to a new phase. Both major-party campaigns began focusing more attention on ground games to find and win voters in Virginia and other swing states.

Remember four years ago when the commonwealth was subjected to a barrage of presidential campaign ads, personal appearances, robocalls and all forms of digital outreach? Look for this year to be just as intense and maybe a little more personal, according to officials of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s national campaign.

Even with Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, “it’s still a battleground state,” said Marlon Marshall, Clinton’s national director of state campaigns. Strong support for Barack Obama in Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia and Richmond was key to his carrying the state and winning the election in 2008 and re-election four years later.

“We’ve got to go out there and register voters,” Marshall said. “We’re not all of a sudden moving Virginia off the map because of Sen. Tim Kaine. We’re still going to be in there organizing.”

Clinton’s national campaign has paid staff in all 50 states but is targeting much of its attention on 10 considered crucial to winning on Nov. 8, Marshall said. In addition to Virginia, the short list includes Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Marshall said Clinton’s campaign workers will go door-to-door to explain to potential voters the differences between Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump. But rather than bring in out-of-town workers, the campaign will hire people from each community.

“We’re going to try to register as many people as we can and turn out our base. But we have to persuade. We have to have conversations with those who could go either way,” Marshall said. Among them are “working-class people” and “suburban women,” he said.

“What I have not seen from Donald Trump in these states is a comprehensive ground game,” Marshall said.

Garren Shipley, Virginia spokesman for the Republican National Committee, disagrees. Shipley said in a phone interview that the GOP already has begun its own plans with volunteers apportioned to 100 regions in Virginia. It also is enlisting neighbors to lobby neighbors, he said.

The party also is embarking on something rare for Republicans: a voter-registration drive concentrated on GOP-rich Southeast Virginia.

David Plouffe, who managed Obama’s 2008 campaign and is a volunteer for Clinton’s campaign, argues that Democrats have the edge.

“I think for Trump to win this election, four things would have to happen: historically bad Democratic turnout; historically good Republican turnout; Trump overperforming maybe even (President Ronald) Reagan in some rural areas; and Clinton underperforming in suburban areas,” he said. “I don’t think any of those things are going to happen.”

Although polls show Trump and Clinton begin the fall campaign with high unfavorable ratings among voters, Plouffe contends Clinton can overcome her negatives as people learn more about her public-service career, including stints in the U.S. Senate and as secretary of state.

But Trump, a New York businessman who has criticized ethnic groups, women and handicapped people, will have a hard time, he said.

“It’s my firm belief that the fall is not going to be friendly to Donald Trump,” Plouffe said.

“One of the things I’ve learned about going through this twice is voters take this decision very seriously. They take it more seriously as it comes close. Those debates are going to be important. And they really do envision this person in the Oval Office.”

This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com.

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