New voters swinging Virginia from red to blue

A view of downtown Arlington, Va. When Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008, it was the first time a Democrat carried the traditionally GOP state in a presidential election since 1964. Thanks to an influx of new hip, young voters, the president could win Virginia again.

Kurt Hall moved to Virginia from Ohio.

Lauren Hill says she'll vote for President Obama.

Manjog Singh drives a cab in Arlington.

Kai Ryssdal: Once and perhaps future Republican front-runner Mitt Romney went to Toledo, Ohio today. With Michigan and Arizona behind him, Romney and the three other GOP hopefuls are all about Super Tuesday this week. Ten states are gonna be voting. We'll be in five of them in the coming days, including a broadcast from Atlanta next Monday for our coverage of what actually matters in this election -- that'd be The Real Economy. Swing states are getting a lot of attention, as they do every year. President Obama won Virginia in 2008, thanks in part to newcomers to the commonwealth -- voters that are changing the way Virginia swings.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer has more.


Nancy Marshall-Genzer: In presidential elections, Virginia was a reliably red state for decades. President Obama was the first Democrat to win the state since Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. Virginia is now bright purple -- up for grabs -- because of people like 32-year-old Kurt Hall.

Kurt Hall: I would say that I'm a Democrat.

Hall is sitting on a bench at a bus stop in downtown Arlington, Va., just outside Washington. He moved here from Ohio and works as a freelance stage manager. Hall voted for President Obama in 2008, and will support him again this year -- even if the economy goes south. Hall is more concerned about preserving Medicare and Social Security.

Hall: You have to take care of people because not everyone can take care of themselves, but also it's just the right thing to do.

Hall is part of a wave of young, college-educated whites who've moved to northern Virginia -- one of the most prosperous areas of the country thanks to federal government spending. These voters backed President Obama four years ago. They're part of a whole new mix of people who live in northern Virginia now and are not reliably Republican. Also in the mix? African-Americans like 24-year-old Lauren Hill, a student who also lives in Arlington.

Lauren Hill: He got my vote because I never saw someone who could talk to me, and to my mom and to the Spanish lady who works in my apartment building, and get us all together and believe that we can all come together as a country and do something.

Hill says she will vote for Obama again this year. Hispanics and Asian-Americans also lean toward the president. Manjog Singh moved to the U.S. from India in 1999. He drives a cab in Arlington. He says Obama also has his vote this year, but the president has to do more for low-income Americans.

Manjog Singh: He has to do something for the very low class and middle class. Because then the economy is going to go up.

And voters here do have one eye on the economy. If it gets shaky, Republicans have a better chance of luring votes away from President Obama. Larry Sabato heads the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He says the Virginia economy will suffer when the federal government starts cutting spending.

Larry Sabato: In most families you have at least one person who is employed by the federal government. When the federal government cuts fat from its budget, it's cutting muscle in a place like Virginia.

Most of the planned cuts in the federal budget won't take place until next year, after the election. But Virginia voters are also paying attention to the national economy, according to Ruy Teixeira, a sociologist and senior fellow at the progressive Center for American Politics. He's been studying the economics and population shifts of this election. He says minorities and white college graduates have increased their share of the Virginia vote since 2008 while white working-class voters declined by five percentage points. They tend to vote Republican. Teixeira says Virginia's demographics work in President Obama's favor. But...

Ruy Teixeira: The thing that could interfere with that is people's sense that the economy hasn't improved enough and maybe it's time for a change and maybe the other guy could do better. That's really what the struggle is going to be about in Virginia.

And what a struggle it will be. Teixeira concludes a report he co-wrote on Virginia's changing population by saying, "The stage is set for a showdown of demographics versus economics in the 2012 election. This will be no election for the faint-hearted."

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

Kurt Hall moved to Virginia from Ohio.

Lauren Hill says she'll vote for President Obama.

Manjog Singh drives a cab in Arlington.

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