Brace yourself; the surge is under way.
If there were any doubts left as to Virginia's national political importance -- or the Richmond area's relevance -- the days ahead should dispel them.
Marking the start of an intense 13-day push to Election Day, tomorrow will kick off a flurry of campaign stops in Virginia from all of the presidential election's principal players, with President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney making stops in Richmond on Thursday and Sunday respectively.
Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, will campaign tomorrow in Bristol and Charlottesville. And Vice President Joe Biden, his wife, Jill, and son Beau, will campaign Saturday in Virginia Beach and Lynchburg, according to a Democratic campaign official.
On Sunday, Romney will wedge his rally at the University of Richmond's Robins Center between ones in western Prince William County and Virginia Beach. Obama will hold his rally tomorrow at the Carillon in Byrd Park -- part of a two-day, six-state tour.
The Virginia barrage underscores this purple state's critical importance, with its 13 electoral votes among the most coveted on the electoral map.
Recent weeks have seen the race here tighten, with polls showing that Obama's narrow but steady lead had been erased, and some suggesting the momentum has been reversed.
Multiple tracking polls and one NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll have shown Romney with statistically insignificant leads in recent weeks, while a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll showed Obama with a 5-point lead.
"This fight is going to be fierce all the way to Nov. 6, and neither side will concede Virginia," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, noting that the state is critically important to Romney, especially if he can't gain ground in Ohio.
"Obama doesn't need Virginia, but wants it to deprive Romney of an easy path to 270" electoral votes, Sabato said.
Focusing on the Richmond area, Sabato added, is a smart play by both campaigns.
"Obama needs to do decently with voters in Chesterfield and better in Henrico, plus pump up the party vote in Richmond," he said. "Romney needs to prove Obama's Richmond-area showing in 2008 was a fluke."
For Obama's rally Thursday at the Carillon in Byrd Park, doors open at 9 a.m. Tickets are available at http://va.barackobama.com or can be picked up today from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at various local campaign offices.
The offices are in Richmond at 408 E. Main St. and 617 E. Belt Blvd.; near Virginia Commonwealth University, 935 W. Grace St.; and in Henrico at 2720 Enterprise Parkway, Suites 103 and 105 and 4719 Nine Mile Road.
For Romney's event Sunday at the Robins Center, doors open at 2:15 p.m. and the program is scheduled to start at 4:40.
Tickets for the Romney rally can be picked up from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Romney campaign offices in North Chesterfield at 9503 Hull Street Road, Suite D; South Chesterfield at 3610 Festival Park Plaza; and in Henrico at 2819 N. Parham Road, Suite 210A. Tickets may also be obtained by visiting www.mittromney.com/VA.
Campaign surrogates are also hitting the trail in the commonwealth.
On Tuesday, rock legend Bruce Springsteen held a rally for the president in Charlottesville, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie campaigned in Richmond Friday on behalf of Romney. And Romney's son, Tagg Romney, on Tuesday launched a two-day bus tour of the state.
Since early May, Obama has made 13 campaign stops in the state, Romney 19, Biden five, and Ryan 12.
With just two weeks until Election Day, Obama on Tuesday began a cross-country rush, touting a new booklet outlining his second-term agenda, and offering a closing argument that the choice comes down to trust.
Obama campaigned in Florida and was headed to Ohio, while Romney's campaign plane taxied past Air Force One on Tuesday morning as he headed West to Nevada and Colorado.
Romney plans to return to Florida by week's end, before a significant uptick in his schedule during the final week of the campaign. Aides say he'll touch down in two or three states a day, or hold that many daily events in big states like Florida.
The nine states whose electoral votes are still considered up for grabs -- New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado -- are sure to see a burst of activity in visits from the two campaigns, political commercials and voter mobilization efforts in the race that's likely to cost as much as $2 billion by the time it all ends.
Asked Tuesday whether the race comes down to Ohio, Virginia and Florida as some observers have suggested, Biden described the three as "critically important." He predicted victory in Ohio and Florida -- without mentioning Virginia.
"Look, this is going to be close," Biden said on NBC's "Today." "We always knew at the end of the day this was going to be a close race, no matter who the Republicans nominated."
Information from reporter Olympia Meola and The Associated Press was used in this report.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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