US Election 2012: Don't forget Virginia
If a week is a long time in politics then nearly eight months (the gap since my last post on Dale Street Associates) is a lifetime. The Wilson minority Government of 1974 lasted for about the same amount of time. Yet in that period it feels like the US Election hasn't inched much further forward - with the Primary season growing longer every four years progress in American elections can feel glacially slow.
However the last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney all but secured the nomination of his Republican party and President Obama kicked off his re-election campaign in Ohio.
In the next few months as November 6 nears you are going to hear a lot about Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida (hanging chad anyone?); all places it is fairly recognised are battleground states. If Texas is a red Republican state and California a blue Democrat state then Ohio is a purple swing state - a battleground or somewhere 'in play' when it comes to the US Election.
While Ohio and the rest are certainly key, this Brit who has only travelled as far as Latvia isn't going to lecture the Americans on their own politics, I want to make the case for another state it is going to be just as crucial to watch - maybe even more so.
A lot of the discussion on the US networks at the moment is the economy and whether Obama can win despite stuttering US growth numbers and unemployment above 8%. Although true - no incumbent President since FDR has returned to the Oval Office after going to the country with unemployment above 7.2% - it is important not to forget that it is Romney who has to take states back off the President if he is to succeed.
While Mitt probably takes back Indiana without a problem some of the other states he needs to carve a path to victory and reach the magic 270 electoral votes are trickier. Virginia is one.
It shouldn't be. Until 2008 a Democrat hadn't won in the Old Dominion since 1964. Obama won from McCain by 6%. After Ohio Virginia was the President's next stop on his re-election campaign and you can bet he and Romney will be back many more times before the race is done.
One of the biggest problems is changing demographics. There are a growing number of black and Hispanic voters in the state who tend to vote Democratic. Plus a growing number of people who are college educated - again they generally side with the Democrats and Obama is courting them and students on rising tuition costs.
The other problem is what should be the challenger's strong hand - the economy. Romney wins by talking it down and blaming problems on the Commander in Chief. The trouble is in Virginia unemployment is below the national average and the economy is actually holding up pretty well - especially in the North.
When you campaign in a Presidential election you do so alongside the local Governor or Senators or Congressman from your party. Until Bob McDonnell became Governor in 2009 the changing demographics I mentioned have hurt Republicans in the state - McDonnell won't let Romney talk down the economy there.
Add into the mix a Gay nominee turned down for a role as a judge by the state House allegedly because of his sexual orientation and a new law that forces women who want an abortion to have an ultrasound and Obama has two local factors he can add to his campaigns on gay marriage and a supposed Republican 'war on women'.
It might not decide the election and although it is on one of the five 'paths to victory' the Obama campaign has highlighted the reality is the President doesn't need to win there - Romney does.
In most polls so far the Mormon candidate is trailing but there is a long way to go and all that is certain is when the polls close in Virginia (it is always one of the first states to be declared) its 13 electoral votes will make it one to watch.
Peter Ruddick @ruddick