Obama heads for Virginia in attempt to storm Republican stronghold

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Barack Obama headed to rural Virginia as part of a presidential election strategy aimed at loosening the Republican grip on southern strongholds.

John McCain is expected to put up a fierce fight in the state which has a military tradition going back to the Civil War. And across the South similar political showdowns are expected as Mr Obama seeks to win over states with a legacy of slavery and segregation.

"We want to campaign here and we want to win here," said the Virginia Governor, Tim Kaine, an Obama supporter. Mr kaine has been mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate. Two other potential candidates; Mark Warner and Senator Jim Webb, were also campaigning with Mr Obama.

Across southern states, race and geography could greatly affect Mr Obama's chances of winning in November. The Democrats have already identified a Virginia as a place which could help them redraw the national political map.

Mr Obama was in the far west of the state yesterday, trying woo back rural white voters with whom he has failed to connect. These are the very people he said "cling" to religion and guns, when economic hard times strike. There is a natural affinity among many of these voters with Mr McCain because of his long military record and "good old boy" style of campaigning.

Mr Obama was then heading to a rally at a 25,000-seat amphitheatre near Manassas which is next to the site of two major Civil War battles.

As part of his southern strategy Mr Obama has sent organisers to register tens hundreds of thousands of new black voters in the Republican-held states of Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Throughout the Appalachian Mountains, he faces serious obstacles to his quest to become America's first black president.

It is a huge area which straddles the key states of New York; Pennsylvania; Ohio; West Virginia; western Maryland; western Virginia; eastern Kentucky; eastern Tennessee; western North and South Carolina, northern Georgia; Alabama and Mississippi. The voters here are mostly white and among the poorest in the US. Natural Democrats, they showed themselves completely unimpressed by Mr Obama's style of electioneering and voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

Virginia has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 and has not been considered a White House battlefield in years. But population growth and the migration of liberal voters from the suburbs of Washington DC has made the state competitive this time around.

George Bush easily won Virginia twice. But when the Democrats won a Republican-held senate seat there in 2006 they also won control of Congress.

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