[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/13/art.swain.cnn.jpg caption="McCain and Palin held a rally in Virginia Beach earlier Monday."]VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) - With several recent polls showing Barack Obama gaining ground in southeastern Virginia, Sarah Palin boldly told a crowd of supporters Monday that the entire presidential election may hinge on this diverse but Republican-leaning part of the commonwealth.
Watch: Palin pumps up the VA crowd
"This election is going to come right down to the wire here, and it’s pretty clear that the road to victory in 2008, it's going to run right through the Hampton Roads,” Palin said. “We’re counting on the people of America's First Region to help us send John McCain to the White House. Yes! Virginia are you ready to help carry this state to victory?”
The crowd’s noisy reaction suggested they were. But recent polling suggests that this year’s presidential race will be tighter than usual in southeastern Virginia, leading some observers to predict that the battleground state’s 13 electoral votes could be decided here.
Hampton Roads, a sprawling and populous region comprised of Tidewater cities including Williamsburg, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, is a demographic melting pot of conservative Christians, African-Americans and military families. The 4,300 acre Naval Station Norfolk is the largest naval installation in the world, and Virginia Beach is the state’s largest city.
CNN’s most recent poll of the commonwealth, conducted September 28-30, showed Obama with a 57-40 lead over McCain in southeast Virginia. (In the context of this poll, southeast Virginia encompasses not just Hampton Roads, but also some inland counties that may include larger populations of African-Americans.) A Mason-Dixon poll of registered voters released on October 1, suggested a statistically insignificant 47-46 lead for McCain in Hampton Roads.
Democratic Senator Jim Webb, a decorated war hero, defeated Republican George Allen in Southeast Virginia by six points in 2006, but John Kerry lost the region by three points to George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.
Obama’s campaign has worked furiously to register African-Americans in the region, especially in cities with major black populations, like Norfolk and Newport News. McCain’s campaign is confident that the GOP nominee’s military background will be enough to carry him in the region on November 4.
Unfortunately for Palin, her botched pronunciation of “Norfolk” likely won’t go unnoticed by the locals.
“Very good to be here in the home of the Naval Station Nor-fork, yeah, and the Naval Air Force Station also, Oceana,” she said.