Los Angeles Times:
Less than an hour's drive out of Washington, when commuter traffic isn't jamming Interstate 66, a new Battle of Bull Run is underway. Obama campaign volunteers, armed with clipboards, have spent weeks registering voters at a modern campus on the hill where a famous general gained the nickname "Stonewall."
Despite painstakingly slow progress — three students signed onto Virginia's rolls during a recent five-hour period — the Democrats are working to fortify a demographic barricade against Mitt Romney that could be decisive in this battleground state. President Obama's reelection depends heavily on young and minority voters, and Northern Virginia Community College, with students from more than 180 countries, makes an obvious recruiting target.
(...) "There's nothing quite like it in any of the other Southern states. There's no region that big that has as many people who don't identify with the old Southern culture," said Paul Goldman, a strategist who in 1989 helped Virginia's Douglas Wilder become the nation's first elected African American governor. "Northern Virginia is much wealthier than the rest of the state. It has much more of a connection to Washington, and so it's unlike any other part of the country."
(...) "Virginia holds the keys to the kingdom," said Rick Wiley, the Republican National Committee political director, who is working closely with the Romney campaign.
Obama has a small lead in recent statewide polling, but Democrats and Republicans expect a close finish. Both sides say Virginia will ultimately be won or lost in the far suburbs of the state's population centers, where women are a prized demographic — and the biggest worry for Republican strategists.
(...) Another demographic edge for Obama: the state's large African American population. Black voters, the strongest and most loyal part of the president's base, make up nearly one-fifth of the Virginia electorate, a greater share than in any other battleground state this year.
Political theorists who argue that "demography is destiny" predict that Obama will benefit from continuing population growth among nonwhites. Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, in a study for the left-leaning Center for American Progress, forecast that minorities will be 32% of the Virginia electorate this fall, up from 30% four years ago.
(...) "The bigger issue is to what extent do the people who voted in 2008 show up again," said Democratic pollster Pete Brodnitz, an advisor to former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine.
Kaine, a close Obama ally, says Virginia is still "on the reddish tinge of purple," the color used to describe places where neither Republicans (red) nor Democrats (blue) hold an advantage.
Virginia Republicans roared back to power in statewide elections over the last three years and revitalized the party's infrastructure. That, GOP strategists say, will make Romney far more competitive against the Obama turnout machine than was 2008 nominee John McCain.
An early Republican voter registration target: white evangelicals, as many as a third of whom are not signed up to vote, GOP officials say. Romney recently gave the commencement speech at one of the country's largest fundamentalist Christian schools, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., part of a stepped-up appeal to a group whose resistance to the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major party is offset by an intense desire to beat Obama. Romney is also reaching out to rural whites and residents of coal country by attacking the administration's energy policies.
Last month, Romney talked up his plan to expand the Navy at a campaign stop in Hampton Roads. The state's second-most populous region boasts the world's largest naval base, at Norfolk, whose military families have been wooed extensively by Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill. Located at the southeastern end of a crescent that slices through the heart of Virginia, from the Washington area to the Atlantic coast, its TV market has been swamped with more presidential campaign advertising than any other in the country, a recent study said.
Obama's decision last month to make Virginia one of two states in which he kicked off his general election campaign confirmed that the state is at the top of his 2012 list. The venue was the former Confederate capital, Richmond, whose suburbs have grown increasingly competitive in recent elections.
But northern Virginia is "where the game is," said the RNC's Wiley, who recently dispatched several Asian campaign coordinators to the area, the first place in the country to get such assistance.
In some ways, the intense focus on the region is a rerun of the last campaign. Northern Virginia got frequent visits by members of both national tickets in 2008. Obama drew more than 80,000 people to his final rally before election day at the Prince William County fairgrounds in Manassas.
The county, a microcosm of the region's astounding social changes, was 94% white as recently as the early 1970s. By 2010, it had become the first large jurisdiction in the area to turn majority-minority.
Obama flipped it to the Democrats in 2008, but the county has returned to its Republican ways and is the largest GOP-run jurisdiction in the state.
Phil Cox, who managed Republican Bob McDonnell's successful 2009 campaign for governor, said Romney "absolutely can win Prince William" and singles out younger voters as a key group.
(...) "It's important to vote," said Chelsea Borie, 19, after Obama volunteers had convinced her to register at the community college in Manassas. Borie, who will attend Radford University in the fall, remembers that she was "all for" Obama at the time of the 2008 election.
But now, she said, "I definitely can't stand Obama. He is not doing what he said he'd do. So I'm voting for Mitt Romney."
(...) Hassan Hosh, 24, wasn't qualified to vote last time. Brought to the U.S. at age 2 by his Somali parents and raised in northern Virginia, he became a naturalized citizen six months ago.
The political science major was an avid viewer of the Republican debates and, like other students, found himself agreeing with libertarian Ron Paul. But he'll cast his first ballot for Obama.
"We need to do something about the people who are here and find a gateway or a pathway to citizenship," he said. "I'm going to vote for Obama for the simple fact that I don't agree with Romney as far as immigration is concerned."