Harrisonburg: Obama to rally Valley on eve of historic election

The Top Story by Chris Graham
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Why in the world, you’re asking yourself, is Barack Obama spending half his day on Tuesday in the Central Shenandoah Valley that went 70 percent for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004?

A better question, given a look at the ’08 poll numbers, might be, Why in the world isn’t John McCain spending his time here given the hemorrhaging of votes that is T-minus seven days and counting from becoming a reality?

“I’ve been saying for months that if Obama carries Harrisonburg, he’ll carry Virginia, and if he carries Virginia, he’ll run the table. I’ve got wonkish numbers that make that observation much more than just a guess. There’s a pool of thousands of young voters in the ‘Burg. Obama’s going to toss a pebble in it. It will still be rippling next Tuesday,” said Harrisonburg Democratic Committee vice chair Joe Fitzgerald on the eve of Obama’s Tuesday-afternoon rally at the James Madison University Convocation Center, where the Democratic Party presidential nominee will make a historic campaign stop with just a week to go ’til Election Day.

The visit will come on the heels of the release of several sets of new polling numbers that have Obama winning Virginia in a near-rout. Reuters-Zogby has it 52 percent for Obama to 45 percent for McCain, while the Washington Post has it 52 percent for Obama to 44 percent for McCain. Survey USA has Obama ahead by a 52 percent-to-43 percent margin, and a new Virginia Commonwealth University poll has it Obama 51, McCain 40. More specific to the Shenandoah Valley, the polls have Obama sitting comfortably in the 45 percent-to-47 percent range, or about 15 to 20 points ahead of where John Kerry was in the Valley in ’04 and Al Gore was here in ’00.

“He’s not going to win this area, I suspect, but if he can narrow the gap, that’s going to give him more voters to use to balance things elsewhere and give what he needs to win the state,” said Bridgewater College history and political-science professor David McQuilkin of the poll numbers.

The strong showing of Obama in the Valley polling is not a surprise to Democratic insiders given the commitment of resources to the Valley by the Obama campaign dating back to the early summer months. The campaign has offices and paid staff in Harrisonburg, Staunton and Waynesboro who have been coordinating canvassing and phone-banking efforts for several weeks that have made contact with tens of thousands of voters in the Central Shenandoah.

The Washington Post poll offered confirmatory data to the effectiveness of those efforts: Half of those surveyed statewide indicated that they had been contacted in person, by phone or by e-mail or text message by the Obama campaign this year.

Tuesday’s visit, then, might be an effort toward sealing the deal with respect to the hard work put in by the Obama campaign in Western Virginia the past several months.

“It’s interesting that he is reaching out to the reddest area of what had previously been a red state and coming right to the heart of the Shenandoah Valley,” Augusta County Democratic Committee chair Tom Long said of the pending Obama visit. “I do know that he’s coming here because of JMU, and he should do well among that demographic. But he’s also coming here because he reaches across party lines, and he wants to appeal to as many Republican-leaning voters as possible,” Long said.
“I think what they’re saying here is, We’re not afraid to take you on on your own turf,” McQuilkin said. “He’s been sending that message out consistently throughout the campaign. The most logical venue for him to do that in the Valley is JMU. It just happens to be in Rockingham County, but that doesn’t diminish the point, that they’re willing to take them on in their backyard. If they’re able to draw a large crowd, that will speak well to the image of his campaign and the momentum of his campaign moving forward.”

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