Obama can definitely win without Virginia. Not by a lot. But he can win. Our Scoreboard currently shows Obama with 265 electoral votes at least loosely in his column with Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Colorado as toss-ups.
Toss in Michigan and he's got it. So it's not so much that Obama has to win Virginia. It's more that it's very hard for me to see how Obama loses if he does win Virginia.
Here's my basic argument.
I'm pretty confident that Obama will win Michigan both because it's been a blue state for 20 years and because of the Romney/auto bailout issue, although at the moment the PollTracker Average gives him a mere 1 point edge. The key to the last three presidential cycles is that you've got to win Ohio or Florida and probably both to win the presidency. In both 2000 and 2004 it all came down to Bush eking out victories in those two states. Both continue to look extremely tight this year -- with Florida basically dead-even for months and Ohio only slightly leaning to Obama. But if Obama wins Virginia he can lose both Florida and Ohio and he'll almost certainly still going to win.
Another way of putting it is that Virginia is one state where 2008 really seemed to change the map rather than just being another state -- like Indiana, for instance -- that just got swept up in the tide. Florida and to a lesser extent Ohio look like the same sandbox we remember from 2000, 2004 and 2008. But Virginia's quite different. Or at least that's what the Obama campaign are betting on. My sense is that the demography of the state really has passed a tipping point. And the economy in the state is relatively strong. So I think Obama still has a very solid shot. But for my money, Virginia really is the state to watch.