Virginia will be the first swing state to close the polls on Election Day, and no one will be watching it more closely than Mitt Romney. This one is a “must win” for him, and he’ll have a very hard time making it to 270 electoral votes without Virginia’s 13, but unfortunately for Romney, the gender gap has plagued him here for months, and may be his Achilles’ heel come Tuesday.
When President Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008, he became the first Democrat to turn the Commonwealth blue since President Johnson in 1964. If he’s going to do it again this year, he’ll need the help of Virginian women.
Since giving its 13 electoral votes to Obama in 2008, Virginia seems to have shifted back to its red roots. It started in 2009 when Virginians elected Republican Bob McDonnell as governor. McDonnell had a pretty “severely conservative” record on social issues from his time in the state house, and had written a controversial thesis in graduate school in which he took on the “harmful social impact of working women, feminists and nontraditional families.” Yet, he ran a campaign focused primarily on the economy and won.
The following year, Virginians got swept up in the tea party fever of 2010, flipping their congressional delegation from a six Democrats to five Republicans balance to eight Republicans and only three Democrats.
In 2011 voters went even further, giving Republicans control of both the state Senate and the House of Delegates, which, with Gov. McDonnell’s signature, gave Republicans full control of the state for only the second time since the Civil War.
It’s what Republicans did once they got that power that may ultimately sink their chances of delivering 13 electoral votes to Romney on Tuesday.
Restrictions on gun purchases were relaxed. Restrictions on women’s reproductive rights were increased. The biggest battle erupted over a mandatory ultrasound bill that required doctors to perform medically unnecessary invasive ultrasounds on all women seeking abortions. The law, eventually softened to require only non-invasive but still medically unnecessary ultrasounds, drew huge protests to the capitol in Richmond.
Virginia women reacted strongly, linking Romney with McDonnell, now known to some as “Governor Ultrasound.” Obama has kept a solid lead with women over that time, although some polls indicate that his gender gap in Virginia has waned in recent weeks.
Yet, one of the most recent polls showed Obama with a 13 point lead with Virginia women, which helps boost him to a four-point margin over Romney in the state.
The latest Real Clear Politics polling average gives Obama a 0.3 point lead in the state, and by all indications, Virginia will be won by a razor thin margin, regardless of who takes it. That decision may rest in the hands of women.