TAMPA, Fla. — Look no further than the Virginia delegation's placement on the floor of the Republican National Convention to understand how important the state is to the GOP's hopes of winning the White House.
This week, the Old Dominion delegation has enjoyed a front-row view of the proceedings. And when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney formally accepts his party's presidential nomination this evening, just to his left will be Virginia, the state that could ultimately decide whether he defeats President Barack Obama on Nov. 6.
“I think the convention wanted to highlight our state and let the people of Virginia know we’re being treated well in this very important convention,” former Gov. Jim Gilmore said in an interview on the floor earlier this week.
Obama carried Virginia’s 13 electoral votes in 2008 with a 7-point victory over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Political observers believe his race with Romney will be much closer and could go either way.
Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins, seated near Gilmore, said he’s been traveling the state emphasizing the importance of turning out the vote, particularly in heavily Republican areas such as the 9th district in the southwest part of the state. The party hopes to offset Obama advantages in other areas of the state.
“We’re feeling pretty good about it,” Mullins said. “It’s going to be close, we know that.”
The outcome of the presidential contest will also have some effect on who wins Virginia’s open Senate seat, which will in turn help decide which party controls the Senate next year. Former Virginia Govs. Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R), vying for the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D), have run even in the polls for more than a year.
“If Mitt Romney should carry the state, and we think that he will, then I think that George Allen will be elected Senator,” Gilmore said. “If Barack Obama carries Virginia, he might not make it.”
Mullins said former Lt. Gov. John Hager recently asked him if he’s feeling the pressure yet, because the party’s 2012 prospects largely rest on Virginia.
“Everywhere I go — around meetings like this — everybody in the country is saying if we don’t win Virginia’s electoral votes, we don’t get the White House,” Mullins said. “And if we don’t win Virginia’s Senate seat, we don’t get 51 votes.”