Virginia Elections: State more than just a presidential battleground

Democratic candidate for Virginia\'s U.S. Senate seat, former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, gestures as he participates in a debate with Republican challenger former U.S. Sen. George Allen, left, in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 8. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Hank Silverberg,

WASHINGTON – Virginia could play a key role Tuesday in deciding who becomes the next president of the United States, along with which party controls the U.S. Senate.

The Old Dominion, which for decades voted Republican in the presidential race, broke form in 2008 by going for Barack Obama. He was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

Now, four years later, the president is neck and neck with Republican Mitt Romney in a state which has been turned from red to purple.

Virginia has 13 electoral votes, the same as four years ago even though the population has grown by 13 percent. In order to win the state, Obama must do very well in the voter-rich counties of northern Virginia, while Romney must run extremely strong in areas like southside Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

The latest Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll shows Obama with a two-point lead – 49 percent to 47 percent – over Romney in Virginia. But the poll’s margin of error is plus or minus three points, meaning the race in the commonwealth is a virtual tie.

The outcome of the presidential vote also could be pivotal in the very close race for U.S. Senate between two former Virginia governors, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine. The latest Rasmussen Reports poll shows Kaine with 49 percent support and Allen with 48 percent – a statistical dead heat.

A big win for the president could help carry Kaine past Allen in what has been a heated race and one of the most closely watched contests in the country. Virginia currently has two Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb. But with Webb retiring, a win for Allen could help Republicans gain control of the Senate.

Special interest groups have spent millions of dollars on negative ads in the race, while both candidates also have funneled millions to advertising. Much of the campaign has focused on which of the two former governors left the state in a better financial condition after leaving office.

Kaine – who served as Democratic National Committee chairman after Obama was elected to his first term – also is being tied to the president’s record in office. Allen, meanwhile, has spent a good part of the campaign trying to live down his loss six years ago after he uttered what many believe was a racial slur during a campaign stop.

On the House side, Virginia’s 11 congressional districts are split 8-3 between the parties – with Republicans in the majority – and redistricting has made it exteremly difficult for any challenger to make inroads into the current structure. It’s likely that northern Virginia Democrats Jim Moran (8th District) and Gerry Connolly (11th District), along with Republican Frank Wolf (10th District), will be re-elected. But a landslide by the top of the ticket either way could change that.

Moran, however, has been embroiled in a recent controversy. His son, Patrick, who worked on his campaign, is now under investigation for allegedly encouraging voter fraud.

An undercover operative from the conservative group Project Veritas posed as a volunteer and told Patrick Moran about a plan to try to vote 100 times for registered voters who were not likely to cast their ballot. In video of the incident, Patrick Moran appears skeptical of the plan proposed by the operative, but eventually says to “look into it.” He later resigned as field director of Jim Moran’s campaign.

Virginia voters also will be asked to decide on two constitutional amendments.

The first ballot question is a reaction to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in 2005 that New London, Conn., could take private land through eminent domain and turn the land over to a developer in order to foster commercial development.

Virginia lawmakers who opposed the concept of taking private land for the benefit of a private developer – rather than for the construction of something like a highway or park – have proposed a change to the state constitution to counter the court ruling.

The change expands private property rights and would prevent localities from using eminent domain for the purpose of generating tax revenue. The state could still take the property for a highway, a park or some other public use.

The second ballot question is simply a calendar change, and would allow the Virginia General Assembly to move the date of its veto session, which follows the legislative session and typically occurs during March or April. It would allow lawmakers to delay the start of the session by up to one week, and enable the General Assembly to avoid scheduling conflicts with religious holidays like Passover.

Among local ballot issues, the most controversial is on the Fairfax County ballot. Voters are being asked to approve a $30 million bond measure to build a levee and pumping station in the Huntington area. The neighborhood, near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, has flooded several times in the last 10 years and more than 170 homes are at risk.

A similar bond issue suggested after flooding in 2006 never made it onto the ballot.

The contest for Alexandria City Council may be the hottest local race, with 12 candidates running for six seats. The density and makeup of the city’s waterfront redevelopment, and plans to redevelop the area around the Mark Center along Seminary Road, have been the biggest issues.

The city also has two candidates running for mayor: incumbent Democrat William D. Euille and independent challenger Andrew Macdonald.

There are additional races for other local officers, as well as additional local ballot questions. For information on specific jurisdictions, follow these links:

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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