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Election 2012: Battleground Report

50-Plus Voters and Social Issues

Virginians focus on the politics of abortion, birth control and gay marriage




En Español |Virginia is a socially conservative land, the tobacco-growing, genteel icon of the Old South, where tradition trumps newfangled ideas peddled in the suspect U.S. capital that lies on the Old Dominion's northern border.

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No, wait — Virginia is largely a suburb of the heavily Democratic District of Columbia, full of unionized federal workers and professional women who see themselves not as belles, but as board members of corporations.

Actually, Virginia is both. And the two sides of the commonwealth are richly displayed in the opinions of Virginia's older voters, who stand to play a pivotal role in one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds of the 2012 election.

With its relatively low unemployment rate, Virginia has the luxury of paying attention to social issues in this year's campaign, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

Earlier this year Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell spotlighted the issues by signing a law requiring that women get a sonogram before they obtain an abortion, a move that pleased part of Virginia but annoyed those who saw it as a shift backward, not forward, on social policy. And with more than a third of the voters in the last presidential election over 50, their reaction to such social issues could influence the results of the November election.

At the annual fish-eating-and-flesh-pressing fest called Shad Planking, in the southeastern town of Wakefield, many 50-plus voters were very clear about how they see politics and culture. Wearing T-shirts that said "Tell Obama to Keep the Change," they made it obvious that they don't like abortion or gay marriage, and they're hoping for a Republican president and a more conservative Supreme Court.

Abortion was the central issue for retired civil servant Jim Keiper, 60, of Chesapeake, as he surveyed the political and culinary scene at the Shad Planking, an old Virginia tradition that features speeches by politicians and a feast of the oily, bony fish roasted on wooden planks.

Next: The political viewpoint from Northen Virginia. »

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