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Virginia No Longer a Republican Stronghold

Since 1964, the U.S. state of Virginia has voted for the Republican Party candidate in presidential elections. But this year it may vote Democratic. With a population of more than seven million, Virginia is the 12th largest state in the country. VOA's Brian Padden recently travelled to Virginia and talked to three groups that could have an impact on who becomes the next president of the United States.

During chapel services at the Christian and conservative Liberty University in rural Virginia, students gather to sing, pray and make plans to get out the vote.

"If you registered to vote, your voter card is coming in, and it is imperative that you do not lose your voter card," said a university speaker.

More than 10,000 of Liberty's students are registered to vote in Virginia. Most hope their votes will keep Virginia a conservative and Republican stronghold.

Student leaders like Sara Blanzy and Matthew Mallick say McCain's strong anti-abortion stance is key to their support.

"So another issue that is very important to me is the issue of the sanctity of human life. I am very pro-life," Blanzy said.

"But most of all, my vote is motivated by the issue of abortion in this country. In the last 35 years we have killed 48 million babies," said Mallick.

The music at a Latinos For Obama fundraiser in the Virginia capital Richmond shows the influence of an increasingly diverse and urban population. Aida Pacheco is with the Hispanic community group Central Virginia Pa'lante, which means moving forward. She says harsh Republican anti-immigration policies have alienated many in the Latino community.

"We have a lot of our friends that are immigrants and have been here for many, many years, are hard working, that contribute a great deal to the economy," she said.

In a normal election year, these would be important issues. But Professor Larry Sabato with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics says this is not a normal year.

"I think the main issue for every American is the economy. Just about everybody is focused on it. So you start with the economy and then you get to other matters like immigration, the war in Iraq and health care," he said.

Sabato says one region where the war in Iraq may supersede the economy as the prominent issue is the coastal area of Virginia, home to some of the largest U.S. military bases.

"On the whole that helps McCain because you have got 17 percent of Virginia's population being military veterans," he said. "They tend to be conservative, they tend to respect McCain's record in Vietnam and elsewhere and that is helping him."

Serenaded by a seniors' choir, veterans talk politics at a retiree breakfast at a Virginia military base. George Reynolds voices what is considered the prevailing view in the military.

"The economy is a big issue but also the support of our troops, and seeing that we win the war and not just get out of there and leave out tails hanging behind us," he said.

But Lyle Predmore says not everyone in the military supports the Republican Party or the current military strategy.

"Of course as military people we are concerned about Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "I am concerned about Iraq, a place we should not have been in to start with. And now we have to figure out how to get out."

With the race so close, Barack Obama and John McCain have spent a great deal of time and money campaigning in Virginia. No matter who wins in November, Professor Sabato says Republicans can no longer take this state for granted.