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Obama works to turn Virginia blue

  • Story Highlights
  • Virginia hasn't voted for a Democrat since President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964
  • Obama visiting rural area where he needs to improve his margins to win the state
  • Obama's campaign has 41 offices across Virginia
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By Sasha Johnson
CNN Senior Political Producer
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NORFOLK, Virginia (CNN) -- The lipstick flap dominated national coverage of Barack Obama's trip to Virginia, a state trending blue but so far out of reach for Democratic presidential hopefuls.

It is no secret the Obama campaign is working this state hard and hoping for an upset in the fall.

Obama visited Norfolk, an area dominated by the military, on Tuesday to talk education reform.

Monday, he made his second visit since the primary season ended to southwestern Virginia, a rural slice of the state that went heavily for President Bush in 2004 and where Obama needs to improve his margins to win the state.

"Sen. Obama is a friend of coal, a friend of this region," said Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat whose southwestern district includes the town of Lebanon, where Obama spoke Wednesday.

The discussion of coal is key in reaching out to this group of voters, many of whom formerly or currently work in the industry. From the talk of coal to the Willie Nelson tunes used to warm up the crowd, it is obvious that camp Obama is trying to make up for Democrats' mistakes when it comes to relating to more conservative voters in more traditional regions. Video Watch how tensions are rising on the trail »

Obama's comment at a San Francisco, California, fundraiser this year about voters in these areas "clinging" to guns and religion has resurfaced recently as a Republican talking point.

"There are a lot of folks who come up to me and they say, 'you know, Barack, I like your economic plan, and I'm tired of George W. Bush,' or 'I got my NRA mailing, and I'm worried you're going to take my gun away,' " Obama told the packed gym at Lebanon High School. "I just want to be absolutely clear ... I believe in people's lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away."

At the event Wednesday, Obama issued a harsh response to Republicans who criticized him for making what they considered to be a jab at vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

A day earlier, when speaking about McCain's claim to be an agent of change, Obama said, "That's not change. That's just calling something the same thing something different. You know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. You know you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough of the same old thing."

The McCain campaign said was the remarks were a deliberate reference to Palin's frequently used line, "You know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick."

Obama accused the McCain campaign Wednesday of engaging in "lies" and "swift boat politics."

Obama kicked off his general election campaign in Virginia in June.

Virginia hasn't voted for a Democrat since President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, but for more than a year, Obama's campaign has cited the state's 13 electoral votes as part of its argument that he can reshuffle the electoral map this fall.

"He has a darn good chance of winning Virginia," Lebanon resident Ray Fogg said.

Fogg said his town, which sits in Russell County, was "more for Hillary" in the primaries. But with consistent concerns about the economy and health care, this longtime union member said, "the people in this area are going to vote D."

Others are not so sure. Helen Fields, an undecided Democrat, came away from Monday's town hall meeting "impressed" Obama had discussed health care and the economy at length, two issues very important to her. But she said the addition of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to John McCain's ticket has prompted her to give the Republicans a "second look" this fall.

"I will probably follow it till the last minute," Fields said.

The Obama campaign has 41 offices across Virginia, offices that state Communications Director Kevin Griffis said act as "platforms" for volunteers to organize and engage in the neighbor-to-neighbor voter contact the campaign feels has served them well in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.


Griffis said that people in southwestern Virginia do not know Obama as well and that only personal contact can overcome hurdles, like questions about the candidate's faith, in this region.

"It makes a big difference when you go down there and spend a little time," Griffis said.

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