Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney will happily take Tuesday's big haul in Virginia as he inches ahead in the long-winded fight for the party's nomination. But as Romney moves on to other states, President Obama remains on the ground in the commonwealth preparing for a November battle that could help ensure him four more years in office.
Obama's campaign has plotted several routes to a second term, and nearly all of them run through Virginia -- a state he made history in winning in 2008 and one he needs again in 2012. The president's campaign organizers are spread out across the Old Dominion, already working to reinvigorate black voters and college-age students who were so critical to his victory four years ago even as they woo new support from Latinos and women.
Obama's re-election team has five offices around the state with others set to open in the coming months, campaign officials said. They hosted a two-day youth summit last month to re-energize young voters, and spent the weekend registering thousands of Virginians to vote. Obama is scheduled to visit the state again on Friday.
The results of Virginia's Republican primary Tuesday were reassuring for Obama's team.
Romney defeated Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the only other candidate on the ballot, to take 43 of the state's 46 convention delegates. But only 5 percent of voters even turned out and the race ended up closer than many expected given that Paul has been languishing at the back of the Republican pack since January.
"If Romney is the nominee, he is really going to have to work long and hard to convince people, even Virginia Republicans, that he deserves their support," said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at Mary Washington University. "But Republicans will certainly regroup when this process is over and they'll wage a competitive fight in Virginia. The odds remain 50-50."
Romney failed to excite Republican voters still angry that tough ballot restrictions disqualified former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich from the state's ballot. And among those who did show up, independents overwhelmingly sided with Paul and two-thirds of those who said they have reservations about their candidate voted for Romney.
"I don't think you can look at any of these things and say he is showing any strength there," Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina said. "You can't lose independents and middle-class voters in every state but your own and think you are showing strength."
But Romney's camp was encouraged by the big boost Virginia provided to his delegate count, and "at the end of the day, that's really all that matters," said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, chairman of Romney's Virginia campaign.
"If people want to refuse to get behind Gov. Romney to prove some great ideological point, that's their right," Bolling said. "But that will directly result in the re-election of Barack Obama."