COLUMBIA -- After helping U.S. Sen. John McCain win the S.C. primary and the GOP nomination, Trey Walker now is heading the Republican's fall operations in a must-win swing state.
Walker, a 41-year-old Irmo native, is one of a handful of South Carolinians heavily involved in McCain's campaign.
In May, McCain tapped Walker to head his Mid-Atlantic campaign -- Delaware, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia and, possibly most important, Virginia.
Virginia is critical to McCain's presidential hopes. If McCain loses it in November, it could doom his chances of becoming president.
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That is why Walker and the rest of McCain's Mid-Atlantic staff are leaving as little to chance as possible. Using techniques perfected in George W. Bush's two presidential wins, McCain's Virginia team is digging deep into voter data to target those likely to vote for their candidate.
In particular, Walker and other McCain staffers are preparing for the critical 72 hours leading up the Nov. 4 election. They are organizing teams to get voters to the polls and ensuring workers are ready to check poll lists to make sure McCain's voters have, indeed, turned out.
Virginia in many ways is similar to South Carolina. It is Southern and has a large military population and rural areas.
But the Old Dominion's urban and suburban areas -- surrounding Washington, D.C., Richmond and Norfolk -- require a national-style, television-based campaign, not the retail politics that South Carolina voters prefer, campaign staffers say.
"Virginia has now joined the ranks of the Ohios and the Floridas," said Walker, referring to the two states that decided the 2004 and 2000 presidential elections, respectively. "It is different because there is a level of intensity and organization involved" that does not occur in S.C. primaries.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, an expert on Southern politics, said Virginia really is no longer a Southern state.
Instead, Sabato said, the presidential campaign in Virginia will be "much more nationally based and attuned to the swing, independent voters in the suburbs."
After McCain's S.C. primary triumph, Walker also worked primary elections for McCain in Florida, Georgia and Virginia.
"Trey's great strength is organization. That's the key to winning a state like Virginia," said Christian Ferry, McCain's deputy campaign manager. "Trey's been a part of John McCain's team as long as anyone. A guy with Trey's knowledge, you could pick him from any state and pop him in a new territory, and he'd be up to speed in no time."
Having spent the last two years on the road, Walker said the decision to leave his family in Columbia to head up McCain's regional campaign was difficult.
"The stakes are high," he said. "I had to finish the job. I jumped at it. It was the opportunity of a lifetime."