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Americas

Obama and Romney vie for vital Virginian votes

Some of the votes in Tuesday's US presidential election are worth more than others, which is why both candidates spent their final campaign weekend in the so-called battleground states - one of which is Virginia.

Schild im Wahlkampfbüro der Demokraten in Richmond, Virginia (Welcome to Virginia, the battleground state) Foto: DW/Christina Bergmann 3.11.2012, CB

USA Wahl Wahlen 2012 Wahlkampf in Virginia

Chrystel Marston is convinced that Mitt Romney will carry Virginia on Tuesday. "We went blue last time and it was unfortunate but we're going back red," said the accountant, who came to the "Meadow Event Parks" exhibition hall in Doswell, normally a venue where horses are presented, or farmers to show their products. But this time Marston and her husband Chris were there to see Republican presidential candidate Romney, who was making three campaign stops in Virginia on that day.

The Marstons live in Beaverdam, not far north of state capital Richmond. It is a rural area where a lot of corn is grown and cattle raised. Even before the event, Marston had already cast her vote for Romney. For her, the economy was the decisive issue. "I'm tired of seeing my family and friends struggle the way that they have been," she said. "This is just not the America I grew up in."

Republican supporters Chrystel Marston and husband Chris Foto: DW/Christina Bergmann 3.11.2012, CB

The Marstons are sure that Virginia will go for Romney

Romney promises fewer state regulations and more jobs, even though the unemployment rate in Virginia is a solid two percentage points lower than the national average.

Romney offers 'real change'

Standing on a podium in front of out-sized US flags, hay bails, and tractors, the Republican delivered his routine campaign speech. But Romney's enthusiasm was limited - the marathon tour across the country was seemingly taken its toll. He repeated his five-point plan for taking the US forward - establish energy independence, strengthen international trade, create better training for workers and students, cut state hand-outs, and support small businesses. But it wasn't those who had turned up at "Meadow Event Parks" who needed convincing.

In this election, unlike the last one, it's the Republicans who are accusing the Democrats of having run out of ideas. "This is an election of great consequence and I think you understand that," said Romney. "I know there are some people who believe we should just stay on the current course we're on. They think things are going just fine right now. I don't believe status quo is the right course for America. I believe that America finally needs the real change that was promised. We're going to give it to the American people."

Battleground states

Both Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan, plus Romney's wife Ann and several other prominent Republicans, have now criss-crossed Virginia in the campaign's home straight. Meanwhile President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, and former President Bill Clinton and sundry other Democrats have been keeping pace.

The polls show Romney and Obama neck and neck in Virginia, so the extra effort could well be worth while. The same is true of Ohio, another focus for the final push, as are Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota. While the candidates have toured these states incessantly, many others are simply ignored.

Romney Ryan signs in Chesterfield, Virginia Foto: DW/Christina Bergmann 3.11.2012, CB

Virginia is one of the most keenly contested states

Virginia, with its 13 electoral votes, is one of those states that definitely won't be ignored. Obama won the state in 2008 with 53 percent of the vote to John McCain's 46 percent. But at the moment, polls put the state much tighter - 49 percent for Obama to Romney's 47.

Richmond, around two hours south of Washington DC by car, has many Obama supporters - partly because 50 percent of the city's population is black, and 25 percent live below the poverty line. Thousands of people waited hours to see the president when he came to Byrd Park in downtown Richmond two weeks before the election. The sun was strong, despite the season, and dozens collapsed in the heat, and emergency services had their work cut out.

Nineteen-year-old Andrea Acuna was excited to see the president, and had already decided to vote for him. "He has a lot of good plans and he wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth," she said. "He knows what the middle class is going through and I think that's why he should be president."

Richard, a voter in Virginia Foto: DW/Christina Bergmann 3.11.2012, CB

Richard, of Richmond, has already cast his vote for Obama

Fighting for the votes of women and minorities

The reasons why the race is close are not hard to see: Obama has lost much of his huge advantage with female voters since 2008, and white men are switching to Romney in droves. But minorities and African-Americans are largely staying loyal to the president. Among these is 51-year-old pipe fitter Richard, who voted for Obama in 2008 and intends to do so again. "It needs a little time to straighten up the mess that we were already in," he said.

Obama himself sounded a little hoarse as he called on the crowd that had filled the park to carry on campaigning, to make phone calls for him - and, above all, to vote. "I need your vote," he said. "I've come to ask for your help in keeping America moving forward."

Fewer supporters

The social issues garnered the president the most applause in Richmond. For women like nurse Liz Burton, one of the campaign's central concerns is the right of women to have an abortion and medical care during their pregnancy. As a confirmed Democrat, she believes that Republican men are completely wrong on the subject of abortion.

But Obama's Virginia supporters are noticeably less euphoric than they were four years ago. The campaign office was larger in 2008, and there were more volunteers working round the clock. But Kimberly Gray, secretarial worker and mother of seven, still believes that Obama will carry Virginia. "Turnout is very crucial," she said.

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