Americans go to the polls to pick a president in three months, and the battle is on in Virginia. New campaign offices for both candidates are springing up on a weekly basis across the state, and in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, three local campaign offices are currently running at full steam. Obama organizers have a Downtown Mall storefront and another outpost on Greenbrier Drive off 29N, and a Romney Victory Office has set up shop in Albemarle Square.
Neither camp is interested in talking about how many paid staffers and volunteers they have on the ground in the area, because of worries that sharing such information would amount to tipping their hands.
But the volunteer count from the Obama campaign’s July 28 “Day of Action” event in Charlottesville and Albemarle—a day of intense canvassing that was duplicated in towns and cities all over the state—was about 150, according to a campaign official.
Meanwhile, Albemarle County Republicans Committee Chair Cindi Burket said the Albemarle Romney campaign has about 200 volunteers, with 30 to 40 regulars. Victory Virginia Chairman Pete Snyder also said Republicans have the greater share of enthusiastic and willing workers. That wasn’t the case last time around, said Snyder. If you look at the set of Virginians who didn’t vote in 2008, “they’re much more likely to be Republican in leaning. It’s a totally different story in 2012.” Now, Republicans say they’re scoring 20 points higher when they ask Virginians how enthusiastic they are about their candidates, and the campaigns are looking to put that energy to work, Snyder said.
“We’re looking to bring in some of our folks that have sat on the sidelines,” he said. “Base voters, independent voters, and undecided voters.”
They’re canvassing and running a phone bank, soliciting donations, and handing out signs and bumper stickers. “Nothing extraordinarily unusual, but we’re doing it in earnest,” said Burket.
And while the Romney headquarters’ location in the county underscores the fact that consistently left-leaning Charlottesville is unlikely to go red, Snyder said the campaign intends to up its visibility in the city in the coming months. “We’re going to see a much greater presence in Charlottesville, with Romney signs, bumper stickers, and surrogate speakers. Students are coming out as well,” he said.
For its part, the Obama camp isn’t willing to give ground. It opened six new Virginia offices over the weekend, including one in Fluvanna, bringing the total number of campaign hubs in the Commonwealth to 31—two more than Romney organizers could claim as of last week. Jim Nix, a Charlottesville Obama volunteer coordinator, said Democrats had the advantage of not having to fight a primary battle this year, so the organizing started much earlier than in 2008.
“We’ve had more time to hit the ground running,” he said.
Nix and other Obama volunteers in Charlottesville explained that their grassroots effort to rally support for the president involves carefully drawn-up geographical territories called “neighborhood teams,” which work autonomously to decide the best way to connect with potential voters, whether it’s through phone banking, canvassing, or other methods.
It’s largely a field campaign, Nix said, with a major focus on face-to-face meetings with potential voters.
The personal appeal is more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach, said volunteer Camilla Griffiths. “When we talk to them, it’s something they feel isn’t coming from a script or from a Barack Obama website, but something about why you support the president and not why Barack Obama’s campaign says you should support the president,” she said.
As busy as the phone banks may be in central Virginia—and as much as both camps want to tip the swing population of Albemarle their way—the area probably won’t decide Virginia, said Geoffrey Skelley, an analyst for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Charlottesville represents a solid source of Democratic support, but for both candidates, more densely packed northern areas in the state are the real prize, he said.
“In the urban crescent, there are big populations, so that’s where they’ll have a lot of focus,” said Skelley.
There’s no denying Virginia as a whole is considered a key battleground state in the presidential race—perhaps even more so than in 2008, when Obama succeeded in turning the formerly reliably Republican Commonwealth blue.
Part of the reason for the intense focus on the Old Dominion, said Skelley, is that Virginia was closest to the national popular vote average in 2008. Obama won by 52.9 percent nationally, and took 52.6 percent of the vote statewide.
“Virginia’s 13 electoral votes are really key in Obama and Romney’s campaign,” said Skelly. “Put it this way: it’s hard to see Obama winning without Virginia, but it’s also hard to see Romney winning without Virginia.”