If you are interested, you will find some voter data below which will give you a sense of what to look for in Virginia Beach on November 6th. This is perhaps one of the most consequential single localities in the nation in this election. Think West Palm Beach, Florida, circa 2000.
First some background:
In 2006, after knocking doors in Virginia for Jim Webb weekend after weekend through the Fall, I had to sit through what was really a torturous election night. For most of the night it appeared that the really odious human being George Felix Allen had enough of a cushion to win the night and retain his Senate seat for the Republican party. Then, Northern Virginia finally kicked in and we, thankfully, arrived at a different result. Though, this took days of shifting votes.
For 2008, I expected things to be close as well, so I gathered all the vote data by locality for the prior three presidential elections. On election night, I was able to compare early precinct returns in Virginia to prior elections and feel pretty comfortable at about 7:30 PM that Virginia had turned blue.
I find the simplest way to get a quick sense of how things are trending is to look at vote margins over time. In the 2008 election, Obama actually lost the locality listed by the Virginia SBE as "Virginia Beach City", but his result was historically very strong.
Here are the margins for the last 4 Democratic candidates for Virginia Beach City:
Clinton '96 lost by 11,599 votes
Gore '00 lost by 21,406 votes
Kerry '04 lost by 33,086 votes
Obama '08 lost by 1,434 votes
As you can see, Obama (running against a Navy war hero in a Navy town) held his own by outperforming Kerry here by 31,652 votes.
What to Watch for:
But, look at the trend from Clinton '96 to Kerry '04. It moved in the direction we don't want. It should be very obvious why Virginia Beach was the place the Romney campaign chose to introduce Paul Ryan. They need that trend to re-assert itself if they are going to win Virginia.
In fact, the hallmark of any Romney win will be a large margin in Virginia Beach. A margin over 40,000 votes for Romney could still be offset by growth in Northern Virginia, but if we are seeing numbers like that on election night, I will be very nervous. North of 50,000, and I am emptying my stomach contents into a handy bush.
There are currently 294,686 registered voters in "Virginia Beach City", which makes it the second most populous locality (after Fairfax County's whopping 717,105) for which the SBE provides stats. It is interesting to note that this is only a slight increase over 2008 in the number of registered voters compared to some other large localities in Northern Virginia, for example:
Percent Increase in Registered Voters Since '08
Loudoun County 13.68%
Prince William County 12.76%
Fairfax County: 5.12%
Virginia Beach City 2.27%
This is a part of the larger trend in Virginia, a shifting of the state's gravitational center to the D.C. metropolitan statistical area. In fact, new registrations in localities won clearly by Obama are nearly 2:1 greater to new registrations in localities clearly won by McCain. Another thing I have noted in the data: new registrations are disproportionately by individuals 25 and under. This is probably normal, but since Obama performs very well with the younger and newer voters, it is a benefit to his cause. Because of this, Obama may be able to take a Kerry-sized loss in Virginia Beach because of a better overall voter pool in the state as a whole.
If the Obama campaign truly has the 21st century GOTV operation we all dream of, then Virginia Beach will be the place where we really first see it. Precincts in and around this area are very efficient at reporting vote and polls close at 7PM. If Obama matches his 2008 margin in Virginia Beach, or manages to win this locality outright, then the Obama GOTV machine is in high gear and Virginia is almost certainly going blue.