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Virginia' s delegates to the Democratic National Convention have had prime seats on the floor of the convention center in Charlotte this week. Close to the podium, those seats are an indication of how important Virginia has become in this election. President Obama won the state four years ago, becoming the first Democrat in more than 40 years to do so, but recent polling shows a very tight race with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Northern Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly joined Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey from Charlotte to talk about the race.
Why do you think the electorate is so divided in the Commonwealth?
"Well, I think we need to step back a little bit and remember recent history. We're glad it's divided politically because that means it's competitive. Not so long ago Virginia was absolutely off the map, not considered a state in contention at all. It was reliably red in most federal and certainly national elections going all the way back to Dwight D. Eisenhower. So the fact that for the second consecutive presidential election we are in contention and indeed the President has a lead and has maintained that lead — small, but steady — all year long is actually an extraordinary development in Virginia political history."
Democrats and Republicans have been spending time and money in Virginia. What does President Obama need to do in his address tonight to convince voters in Virginia to turn out for him on Election Day?
"I'd say the combination of Michelle Obama and President Bill Clinton, two extraordinary presentations before this convention, have really set the stage for the President to make his case for another four years. They did a great job of reminding people about his background, his roots, where he came from, who he is as a person, and the mess he inherited and what he's done to try to clean that up and he's made enormous progress as President Bill Clinton laid out last night"
"So I think the president now has a chance to reset this narrative and look to the future — what he'd like to do, what will he do in a second term, because ultimately elections are about the future."
One issue many Virginians are watching closely is a defense spending. Billions of dollars in across-the-board cuts are expected to hit the Pentagon in January if Congress does not intervene. What do you think the chances are that Congress will prevent those sequestered cuts from happening?
"Before the August recess, I called for Congress to cancel the recess. The Republicans, John McCain and John Boehner, talked about the sky falling and what devastation sequestration would represent, and I agreed with them. So if it's that serious let's cancel a five week recess. We not only didn't cancel the recess, they actually got out a day early. So much for that crisis.
So unfortunately, by doing that, they wanted to make political hay out of it, but didn't want to solve the problem, which is kind of the siren song of the 112th Congressional leadership, which is very disappointing. So we're going to have to address this in lame duck. I'm confident that if President Obama is re-elected we will successfully address this in lame duck."
Do you think the outcome of this election will affect how Congress deals with those cuts and tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year?
"Whatever happens, I think we're going to be looking at very close results. So I don't see some dramatic shift either in Congress or, hopefully, in the White House. If Mitt Romney were to win the White House, I think actually it provides incentive to kick the can even further down the road, creating even more uncertainty, because you'd want to give the new president an opportunity to get his feet wet and his team together. And that probably argues for not dealing with many of these issues successfully until February or March of next year."
"I think that would be very bad for the economy, I think it would again extend by another three or four months the delay, the uncertainty, the hesitation, in making economic decisions like hiring new people and making new investments. So the sooner we can clear the fiscal cliff up, and make sure it does not occur, the better for the country."
Meanwhile, Virginia's Board of Elections announced this week that former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode will be a Constitution Party presidential candidate on the ballot in the Commonwealth this fall. What impact do you think he'll have on the race?
"Well, I think every political point of view that has any legitimacy at all ought to be on that ballot so people have a wide choice in front of them on November 6. So I think it's actually a good thing for the democratic process. Obviously Virgil Goode is well known, especially in his former congressional district, he was both a democrat and a republican, now he belongs to the Constitution Party."
"So he's gonna drain some votes on the ballot, especially here in Virginia, and I would expect him to probably drain those votes mostly from what Mitt Romney might otherwise get. So that makes what has already been kind of an uphill climb for Romney all year long that much steeper."
Looking ahead, Artur Davis, a former Democratic Congressman from Alabama spoke at the Republican National Convention last week. He has changed parties and moved to Virginia, and there's speculation that he may try to run for office in your district in the future. To what extent do you have your eye on him?
"I've got an election in 61 more days, Matt. I'm focused on that one, let's win this election and we can all worry about what happens in the future later on. Who knows, anyone can speculate about anything, I just think it's way too early to be concerned about that."