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Virginians can expect to be at the center of the political sphere through Election Day, according to analysts.

The role of swing state is a new one for Virginia, which was considered reliably Republican until President Barack Obama handily won the state in 2008. Virginians promptly followed that act by electing a Republican governor in 2009, leaving both parties with the feeling that the Commonwealth’s 13 electoral college votes are there for the taking.

With nearly four months to go until the presidential election, both Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney already have made multiple campaign swings through the state, including recent visits to Clifton and Sterling.

“Every other week, somebody from each campaign is going to be passing through, either a surrogate or one of the candidates,” said Toni-Michelle Travis, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

In addition, the airwaves already are packed with campaign ads — both paid for by the campaigns and those from outside groups.

Both Travis and Jennifer Thompson, an associate political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said spending in this campaign cycle most likely will set a new high, both nationally and within Virginia.

“Both sides are going to pour tens of millions — some have said hundreds of millions — into Virginia.

“This level of attention is unprecedented for Virginia,” Thompson said. “Really, until 2008, Virginia was kind of a political non-entity.”

It also has started much earlier than normal, Travis said.

“They usually assume people are on vacation until late August,” she said.

Republicans learned from 2008 that they needed to work harder to earn Virginia votes, said Pete Snyder, chairman of the Virginia Victory 2012 for the Republican Party. Now, with the Obama campaign vying to repeat its win in the state and the Romney campaign hoping to turn the state “red” again, “Virginia is the No. 1 battleground state in the country,” Snyder said.

In addition to TV stations jam-packed with political advertising, Snyder said Virginians should get used to mailboxes and inboxes full of political messages, as well as robocalls or phone calls from campaign volunteers vying for votes. On top of that, Travis said, there will be plenty of pollsters trying to guage which way the state’s political winds are blowing.

“If you like politics, it’s like waking up on Christmas morning,” Snyder said.

If you’re already getting tired of the battle, he suggests taking a long vacation.

While both sides also are trying to motivate the party faithful, the real battle is for the pockets of independent voters — who flipped from one party to another between the 2008 presidential election and the 2009 gubernatorial or the 2010 mid-term congressional elections, Thompson said. Those areas include the outer Northern Virginia suburbs, such as Loudoun and Prince William counties.

“Both Obama and Romney are fighting tooth and nail for those voters,” she said. “You won’t be able to win Virginia without them.”

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com