Poll: Swing State Virginia Swings Toward Obama

Virginia's Swing

With Mitt Romney in Virginia Thursday, the Washington Post is out with a new poll in Virginia, where President Barack Obama leads 51%-44% over Romney. It’s the fifth swing state poll in two days -– WI, FL, OH, PA, VA. What have we learned from those? Romney’s got a lot of work to do.

The common denominator on all these -- we thought he might get a bump after being the de facto nominee, and while he showed improvement in some places, particularly Florida, he didn’t get much of a bump out of becoming the nominee. Virginia may very well be the scariest state for Romney. If Obama wins Virginia, he could win the White House without Florida or Ohio. If Romney loses Virginia, he doesn’t have a path if he also doesn’t win any of the swing states out West.

Virginia and the Gender Gap

Assuming the West becomes out of reach due to the GOP’s problems with Hispanics, then Romney HAS to win one of the following four: PA, VA, WI, or MI. And of those four, Virginia is clearly the most winnable. And of all the swing states, Virginia’s was closest to the national number in 2008. And it has moved with where the country has moved from 2005 forward.

"I think most would say it's a very tough path for a Republican to win the presidency without winning Virginia,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell, who appeared with Romney yesterday. “So that's why you see Mitt here last night, today and he'll be here next week a couple times. This is clearly on the top of his list. The president's here today and the president's here on Saturday, so everybody knows Virginia's in play.”

Dig deeper into the Washington Post poll and one result stands out above all others: the gender gap. If you didn’t think before that the fight over transvaginal ultrasounds hurt the GOP, then simply look at this gender gap in this poll. That fight did damage to the GOP’s brand with suburban women.

The Swing Markets

There are swing states and then there are swing MARKETS inside those swing states. And it’s these swing markets, where you’ll not just see TV ad spending but the candidates themselves.

Our ad-tracking partner, SMG Delta, crunched the numbers to break down the 17 “swing markets” within the broader group of battleground states. These are the ONLY media markets in these 12 battleground states where Bush won in 2004 and Obama won in 2008. We break down the list of those places here.

Interestingly, Virginia sports three of the 17 markets (including Richmond) and Ohio sports two of the 17 (including Columbus). And where’s the president going for his first two official campaign events on Saturday? Richmond, Va., and Columbus, Ohio.

By the way, margins in media markets matter as much as whether a candidate carries it. For instance, Colorado does not have a “swing” market. Kerry and Obama BOTH won the Denver-market. Obama just won it by a MUCH larger margin.

Close Up

Romney was asked by local NBC Virginia affiliate WAVY if he believed his religion was part of the reason conservatives were slow to embrace him. Romney replied, “I've got great support from evangelical voters -- a number of states that we had primaries in I was the leading contender.”

Evangelicals were not a strength for Romney; it’s a big reason he lost South Carolina and didn’t win a single culturally Southern state. He won evangelicals in NH, MA, FL, NV, VT, MD, VA (where only he and Paul were on the ballot). He acknowledged, though, “I know there will be a narrative perhaps to that degree….” But he said, “I want all elements of our party to come together and support me, but I also have to get those folks that are the undecideds, the independent voters, women voters, Hispanic voters, young people, I've got to get them, too.”

How tough has this pivot been for Romney? AP notes today that members of the Mormon Church are nervous about the church coming into the spotlight, having again to defend the church amidst “vetting” that “will take place amid the emotion of what may well be a nasty general election.”

McDonnell Hurt by Good Virginia Economy Ironically?

McDonnell noted yesterday that Virginia has the lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast, and he’s running sunny ads about the state of the Virginia economy. If you’re wondering how he did in the audition, he might not make as much sense now, because he throws Romney off his “bad economy” message a bit.

McDonnell would argue that it’s because of his pro-business policies that have helped create jobs in the state. But it’s hard to have it both ways.

"Remember three and a half years ago, we heard that tune about hope and change?" McDonnell said. "Now what do we have? We have recession, division and malaise. It’s time for a change, don't you think?"

But when you peel back the onion of the Virginia economy, you realize just how much the federal government is such a vital part of the economy. Two words: defense contractors.

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Chuck Todd is NBC News' Political Director and host of "The Daily Rundown," which can be seen at 9 a.m. weekdays on MSNBC. Read the national edition of First Read featuring Chuck, Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro on msnbc.com.

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