Like Virginia Beach, Chesterfield County is a large Virginia locality that President Obama is very likely to lose. Any Republican campaign with hopes of beating Obama needs to run up the score here. The key for the Obama campaign is managing that margin as well as he did in 2008:
Win/Loss Vote Margins in Chesterfield County Presidential Races
Clinton '96 -26,430
Gore '00 -31,286
Kerry '04 -34,399
Obama '08 -12,103
Win/Loss Margins in Chesterfield in Other Close Senate Races
Webb Senate '06 -18,962
Robb Senate '00 -28,188
On election night in 2008, I felt comfortable in telling friends that Virginia had gone blue at around 7:45 PM by looking at the precinct by precinct margins in Chesterfield County. One reason was that Jim Webb won Virginia in 2006 by 10,000 votes in a much lower turnout year. Webb lost this locality by 18,962 votes, so the fact that Obama was able to hold McCain to a mere 12,103 advantage here is a glaring development which may have implications for the future of Virginia politics.
I suspect people are not as familiar with Chesterfield County as Virginia Beach, so let me give you some context as why this is such a critical battleground within the battleground . . .
Geography and Demographics: Chesterfield County occupies 400+ square miles directly south of Richmond, and stretching from the end of Tidewater Virginia in the East to Piedmont Virginia in the West of the county. As such, this locality contains almost every imaginable voter group, from urban to rural, from very wealthy to under the poverty line. The areas closest to Richmond and Petersburg are quite diverse ethnically, with a significant population of African-American voters and growing Hispanic and Asian populations. The county as a whole is between 60 and 65% white.
This is a locality where the Republican coalition of evangelicals and laissez faire capitalists are both found in large numbers. Still, though many people in Chesterfield County will never vote for President Obama (Roy Hoffman, Chairman of Swiftboat Veterans for truth lives here to give you an idea) he was able to narrow the margin here in 2008 by bringing new voters into the fold.
Since 1996, Chesterfield County ranks 33rd in Virginia for the percent growth in registered voters, increasing its voter rolls by about 36%. However, in that same time Chesterfield County ranks 4th in net gain of new voters, adding 57,293 voters to the rolls since 1996.
New registrations since 2008 number 9,936 through August 2012. The registration deadline in Virginia is October 15th.
What loss margin in Chesterfield County should we expect in an Obama state-wide win?
I think an Obama state-wide win scenario will start with a loss margin in Chesterfield County somewhere under 20,000 votes. He can accomplish this by playing to the gender gap and engaging new and minority voters. A loss margin in the 20,0000 - 30,000 range, would be indicative of a close statewide race.
What to expect in a Romney win:
A clear Romney advantage would start with a win margin in Chesterfield County above 30,000 votes, but it is possible that growth in Northern Virginia localities could swamp even such a margin. If I were running the ground-game for a Republican in Virginia, I would not want to settle for anything less than plus 40K here. This is not lost on the Romney campaign, as they have two campaign offices here. Obama offices are nearby in flanking positions in blue strongholds of Richmond to the North and Petersburg to the South.
Like Virginia Beach, this is an important locality to watch not only in this election, but going forward. In a future Virginia that turns consistently blue, these two localities change demographically and philosophically to a degree that the large number of conservative voters here are essentially offset.