In political parlance, a "battleground" state is one that could make the difference in a Presidential election. Florida was the key battleground state in the 2000 election, Ohio in 2004.
In 2008, it could be Virginia.
The southwest Virginia town of Lebanon got an economic boost when two high-tech companies moved in — making it an attractive site for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to bring his messages of hope and change.
Many in economically distressed rural southwest Virginia earn a living mining coal or farming. But Lebanon’s success at attracting high-tech industry has landed it in the Democrats’ campaign spotlight.
Former Gov. Mark Warner cited the success of the town of about 3,500 in his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. And Obama planned to campaign there Tuesday afternoon.
The region is not Obama territory.
Voters overwhelmingly chose Hillary Clinton in Virginia’s primary, and southwest Virginia has tended to go Republican in presidential elections.
But Warner, who is running for Senate, carried the rural area for the Democrats when he ran for governor in 2001. And Warner persuaded CGI and Northrop Grumman Inc. in 2005 to locate in the coal-mining region.
The two companies moved to the region as a less expensive way to do business without sending jobs overseas. Amid the rolling farmland, Northrop Grumman operates a call center and backup data center for Virginia’s state government across from Canada’s CGI Group center, which employs software developers, analysts and consultants.
"Now, some folks look at towns like Lebanon and say: ‘Tough luck. In the global economy, you’ve lost," Warner told Democrats at their Denver convention. "But we believed that we shouldn’t, and couldn’t, give up on our small towns and expect the rest of the state to prosper."
Now Obama is trying to take a page from Warner’s winning strategy in Virginia.
Senator John Kerry, the Democrat who lost the 2004 Presidential election, reportedly asked Obama recently what he wanted for his birthday.
"Virginia," Obama replied.
Virginia hasn’t gone Democratic since 1964, the Presidential year when Sen. Barry Goldwater won only four states in his loss to Lyndon Johnson. Like McCain, Goldwater was a Senator from Arizona. Unlike McCain, Goldwater faced a white incumbent President.
On Nov. 4, we will see if things really have changed in the Old Dominion. Virginia is also a battleground state when it comes to monuments to the Civil War. We have more of them than anyone.