50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 10. Virginia

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

10. Virginia

Capital: Richmond

Nickname: Old Dominion

Motto: Sic Semper Tyrannis

(Thus always to tyrants)

About the State

Before English settlers set up the Jamestown colony 405 years ago, Virginia was inhabited by Algonquian tribes, primarily those united under the Powhatan Confederacy.  The colonists came into conflict with the Native Americans, leading to the two Anglo-Powhatan wars, the first of which was resolved when Pocohontas – daughter of the chief of the Powhatan tribe – was taken prisoner by the English, but ended up staying with them and marrying the tobacco trader, John Rolfe.

Virginia was at the heart of the American Revolution and many of its natives played an important part in the birth of the nation – George Washington, the leader of the Continental Army and then the First President; Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the Third President of the United States; James Madison is considered the “Father of the Constitution”, as he drafted much of the document, and was the author of the Bill of Rights; and Patrick Henry, one of the chief proponents of Republicanism, and the man who gave a speech to the Virginia Convention which contained the phrase “Give me liberty, or give me death”.

However, while the state can boast to having played a major part in the creation of the country, it was also at the forefront of the biggest wrongdoing in the history of the United States – slavery.  Trying to make money from growing tobacco, the English settlers in the 17th Century brought over a group of 20 or so Angolans, which marked the beginnings of enslavement in America.  It was because of the large number of slaves that were present in Virginia that the compromise of counting them as three-fifths of a person (for the calculation of how many Representatives in Congress each state would receive) was written into Article I, Section II of the Constitution.  Of the 8 Presidents to have hailed from Virginia, 7 of them were slave-owners (including George Washington, with the exception being Woodrow Wilson, who was elected in 1912) and Zachary Taylor – the 12th to hold that office – declared it a Constitutional right, which should be defended with the sword if necessary.  In 1831, it was in Southampton, Virginia, that Nat Turner led a slave rebellion, during which more than 50 white people were killed.  According to the census of 1860, before the Civil War started, there were 490,765 slaves in the state, out of a total population of 1.6 million, showing how much their economy was reliant on the exploitation of African-Americans.

It seceded from the Union on April 17th, 1861, the Commander of the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee, was from there; and more battles were fought in Virginia than in any other state during the Civil War.  The conflict also led to the creation of another state, when 48 counties voted to form West Virginia and stay in the Union in 1863.  Like all of the other Southern states who formed the Confederacy, after the Civil War and a period of Reconstruction, Virginia enacted Jim Crow laws – racially segregating public facilities – and adopted measures like poll taxes to disenfranchise African-Americans (and poor white people also).  While the Civil Rights Era in the 1960s brought an end to legal discrimination, not everybody has accepted the merits of the Confederacy’s defeat – in 2010, Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia declared April 14th “John Wilkes Booth Day”, on the 145th anniversary of when he shot Abraham Lincoln.

Tobacco has been a major part of the economy of Virginia, going back to the colonists, and coal mining has joined it as being a big industry.  Both of these have been eclipsed in magnitude in recent years by technology companies and, by 2006, the state’s biggest export product was computer chips.  Its proximity to Washington D.C. has resulted in Virginia being the location for many Federal Agencies, most notably the Pentagon (the largest office building in the world), in Arlington, and the CIA, in McLean.

It is the 35th biggest state in the US in area and ranks 12th in population.  The aforementioned 8 Presidents to have hailed from Virginia are Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor and Wilson.  The College of William and Mary – the second oldest in the nation behind Harvard – is located in Williamsburg; and the state was also the first place in the US that peanuts were grown.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 13

2008 Result: Obama 52.7% McCain 46.4%

Latest Poll: Obama +3%

In the last 15 Presidential elections, Virginia has gone to the Democratic candidate just twice: in 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson easily beat Barry Goldwater, who was despised by many even in his own party; and Barack Obama carried the state in 2008.  Should he win Virginia in November, the President is all but certain to win a second term in office, so it is a place Mitt Romney will be putting a lot of money and time into for the next six weeks.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one election for the Senate in Virginia this November – incumbent Democrat Jim Webb is not seeking re-election, and the race is considered a toss-up between Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R).  Both parties are focusing on Virginia as a crucial path to them having control of the Senate when the new Congress convenes.

The state has 11 members of the House of Representatives, of which the current make up is 3 Democrats to 8 Republicans; GOP incumbents Scott Rigell (in the 2nd District) and Robert Hurt (5th) are in the closest races, but both are expected to win another term.

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