With just eight days until polling day, Virginia remains finely poised.

A Washington Post poll yesterday put Barack Obama in the lead by 51 per cent to 47 per cent of likely voters, but other recent surveys have shown either a dead heat or a tiny advantage for his Republican rival.

In the past decade, population flows and changing demographics have turned Virginia from a Republican redoubt into a swing state, enabling Obama four years ago to become the first Democrat to carry it in a presidential election since Lyndon Johnson's national landslide in 1964.

This time, both candidates have a plausible roadmap to victory in the state, and its 13 electoral college votes that could determine the outcome.


For the President, the key is to get out the vote in the state's most populated areas - the capital Richmond, southeast Virginia around Hampton and the Norfolk naval base and, above all, the new Virginia of the ever-expanding suburbs of Washington DC - where his edge among black, Hispanic and women voters counts most.

For Mitt Romney, leading among white and male voters, his natural strongholds are rural and southern parts of Virginia (the core of the old Confederacy and, many old-timers would say, the "real" Virginia), plus the coal-mining region in the southwest.

Haymarket, where the DC suburbs start to peter out and the Appalachians are visible on the skyline, is where these two Virginias meet.

And, once the weather has returned to something like normal, Romney will assuredly be back before election day. The contest is now down to - at most - eight states: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado and Nevada, all of them won by Obama in 2008. All today are on a knife-edge.

But if the President can hang on to Ohio, then it will be close to impossible for Romney, even if he wins Florida, to capture the White House without Virginia.

Before his dismal performance in the first presidential debate, Obama seemed to be cruising to victory here, with a lead of up to 10 per cent.

But Romney has mounted a powerful comeback, reaching out to women voters who had been put off by radical anti-abortion initiatives pressed by Republicans in the Virginia state legislature.

He has also courted the military vote, directly among active servicemen and veterans and indirectly by emphasising the thousands of defence industry jobs in Virginia that, he says, are at risk because of future Pentagon budget cuts in a second Obama term.

- Independent