Absentee ballot count in Virginia shows weakening enthusiasm in Obama strongholds

Absentee voting patterns in the key swing state of Virginia may offer a clue to what's in store on Election Day in the Old Dominion.

A county-by-county spreadsheet of 2012 absentee voter totals compiled by the Cook Political Report indicates a dramatic drop-off  in absentee voting from 2008, especially in those counties where President Obama won handily four years ago.

Mitt Romney maintains the slimmest of leads in Virginia, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls -- with 47.9 to Obama's 47.4 percent. But in counties won by Obama in 2008, absentee voting has dropped off 13.6 percent since 2008. It also has dropped off in Virginia counties carried by Sen. John McCain in 2008 but much less precipitously - only 1.1 percent.

The apparent enthusiasm gap grows wider in counties where Obama won overwhelmingly in 2008. In Fairfax County, for example, an area heavily populated by federal government workers and government-related industries, absentee voting is down 20.1 percent from 2008. In the Democratic stronghold of Arlington County, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.,  absentee voting has fallen off 20 percent since 2008.

Both candidates have made several recent campaign stops in Virginia, Romney as recently as Thursday night in Virginia Beach. Obama will visit again on Saturday at the same place he wrapped up his 2008 presidential campaign - the Jiffy Lube Pavilion in Prince William County. That's where four years ago 80,000 people enthusiastically welcomed the promising young Democratic nominee.

Analysts agree that Virginia is perhaps second only to Ohio as a lynchpin for securing the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.