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Posted November 6, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Va's biggest, costliest election in voters' hands

By Bob Lewis - AP Political Writer

RICHMOND -- Virginia's biggest, most expensive political season with unprecedented attention from presidential candidates is drawing long lines of voters to polling places across the state, but concerns about the state's new voter ID law appeared overblown.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are in a toss-up race for the 13 electoral votes that both parties consider vital for victory. Polls are open in Virginia from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Four years ago, Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to win Virginia in a presidential race. The president had a lead in polling and appeared headed for a repeat in Virginia until Romney pulled within the statistical margin of error in October, after Obama's poor performance in the first presidential debate.

In another tight race, two former governors, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen, are battling for the seat Democratic Sen. Jim Webb is vacating. The outcome could determine whether Democrats keep their narrow U.S. Senate majority.

The Senate race has attracted about $53 million in spending by outside, independent organizations, many of which do not have to disclose their wealthy donors. That's the largest amount for any Senate contest. About 60 percent of that money was spent either in opposition to Kaine or support of Allen.

All 11 of the state's congressmen -- eight Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and three Democrats -- face challengers to their re-election, most of them little-known newcomers.

Voters also must decide on a constitutional amendment to limit eminent domain, which is the government's ability to take private property for economic development needs. Virginia's legislature outlawed the practice in 2007, leading opponents to say the amendment is not needed.

Absentee balloting in Virginia appeared to be on pace with the 2008 race with nearly 439,000 in hand by midafternoon Tuesday, according to the State Board of Elections. A total of 506,672 voted absentee in 2008, and nearly two-thirds of them were for Obama

Some polling stations reported long lines. In Prince William County in Virginia's Washington, D.C., suburbs, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly exhorted voters at a Democratic-leaning precinct facing a wait of four to five hours not to give up. The party accused local election officials of supplying too few voting machines at the precinct to handle the crush.

But few precincts reported any increase in the number of provisional ballots cast by voters who failed to bring identification required by the voter ID law.

The law was passed by a Republican General Assembly earlier this year in the name of preventing fraudulent voting, though critics denounced it as a latter-day Jim Crow voter suppression effort aimed at the poor, the elderly, the disabled and minorities.

In a heavily Democratic, mostly black area near downtown Richmond, chief election officer Susan Woodson said that by midafternoon, more than 1,500 of the precinct's 3,000 registered voters had cast ballots, and only five required provisional ballots because of the new law.

In the campaign's final week, both presidential candidates and their A-list surrogates have blanketed Virginia, which for 40 years was a reliably Republican afterthought in presidential politics.

Romney made six stops in Virginia in the past week, about the same number as his running mate, Paul Ryan.

Obama headlined one late-night rally Saturday with more than 25,000 people at an outdoor amphitheater in northern Virginia with former President Bill Clinton and rocker Dave Matthews. Vice President Joe Biden spent Sunday and Monday crisscrossing Virginia, making four stops, one of them with musician John Mellencamp.

Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat in Prince William County, Va., contributed to this report.

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