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Analysis: Virginia Remains A Battleground Going Into Debates

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Tonight, the spotlight will be on President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney for the first presidential debate in Denver. Both will be appealing particularly to voters in swing states and one of those states, Virginia, is getting special attention this week. Josh Kraushaah, executive editor of National Journal Hotline, talks with WAMU's Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about what to watch for in the debate. Here are some highlights: 

On the message the Romney/Ryan campaign is trying to push in Virginia: Well the economy is the biggest message for both presidential candidates, but Virginia is unique among many of the other battleground states because its economy is preforming relatively strongly, and it has been benefitting from government money and the stimulus and defense contracting and the like," Kraushaah says. "So Romney has had trouble driving the economic message as effectively as he otherwise could because North Virginia … has prospered in the last several years and a lot of voters there think they are better off than they were four years ago." 

Why Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going straight to Virginia after the first debate: "Virginia is one of the closest states in terms of polls. There is a poll that just came out from NBC-Wall Street Journal showing it's a margin of error race in the state," Kraushaah says. "Romney needs to hold his margins, he needs to be competitive with the president in Northern Virginia and he needs to run up the score downstate. Romney cannot win the White House without winning Virginia's 13 electoral votes.

How the presidential debates will affect the Virginia Senate race between former Govs. George Allen and Tim Kaine: Well George Allen and Tim Kaine are … dependent on the presidential candidates' performance more than any other Senate race in the country. Kaine needs strong turnouts from the college towns across the state, from minority voters across the state and that's Obama's coalition," Kraushaah says. "So Kaine has not distanced himself from the president as much as other Democratic Senate candidates in more Republican states. George Allen … needs to get strong base turnout from conservatives … so both Romney and Obama's performances in the presidential race will tell a lot about whats going to happen in the senate race." 

On why House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is spending so much on ads in his election when his 7th Congressional district seat is generally seen as safe: "Two reasons: the redistricting that took place this past year has made the district slightly more competitive. It's still a very solidly Republican state but it's not quite as safe as it once was," says Kraushaah. "And the challenger [Wayne Powell] … that Cantor is facing has actually spent money. He's been on television, and he has an appealing profile as someone with a military background. So Cantor knows he's in pretty good shape but he can't afford take anything for granted, particularly given the polarized nature of the electorate and some of the coverage that hasn't been the most positive that hasn't gone his way."

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