"As a white American, I can't relate to what he's trying to do," Cavallo says. "I can't relate to where he wants to take the country. Explain to me how my working every day, owning a small business ... how does that fit into his plan?"
Cavallo was swayed by the first presidential debate. Before, he says, "I thought Romney was a wuss. He wasn't coming on strong." But he admired the Republican nominee's "aggressive" performance, and is now leaning toward him.
Nancy King Robinson, and her husband, Allen, owners of Books and Other Found Things, have already decided. They're backing Obama.
"I'm one of the 47 percent," says King Robinson, who has multiple sclerosis and receives Social Security disability. "I get it because I worked for it." She believes Romney revealed his "true colors" in his disparaging remarks, made at a private fundraiser, that 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes feel entitled to government handouts.
Romney later renounced his comments, saying he was "completely wrong," but Allen Robinson isn't buying it.
"It's just reinforces to us ... he's willing to say whatever he has to win," he says. "If he's elected, what's to keep him from changing his mind again?"
For some voters, though, philosophy matters more than the candidate.
Chris Charron, who is leaning Republican, likes Romney's run-government-like-a-business approach, though he's less impressed with the candidate. "There's a certain charisma you have to have," he says, "And I don't think he's got it."
Charron recently sold his construction consulting company, nervous about how the business — 80 percent involved government contracts — would fare in this era of budget cutbacks. He also was impatient with the pace of recovery.
"Every time the economy takes a step forward," he says, "you get a little excited, then you get knocked back on your knees."
Now part owner of a winery, 868 Estate Vineyards, and the adjoining Grandale Farm Restaurant, Charron is relieved he no longer works with federal bureaucrats.
"There are some people in the government who are not qualified or capable of doing their job," he says. "But there's no way to get fired in government. You either get moved around or you get promoted."
THE GOVERNMENT DIVIDE
In campaign 2012, the candidates have repeatedly clashed over the size and scope of government. Obama believes government has a role in creating conditions for prosperity. Romney argues it's too big and intrusive, though he wants to increase defense spending.
Those sharp divisions are reflected among Virginia voters, too.
Tom Mastaglio, CEO of MYMIC, a simulation and training company in Portsmouth — most of his clients are in the defense industry — sides with Republicans on this issue. He thinks the federal government is inefficient and has too many unnecessary programs.
Mastaglio thinks Romney is a good businessman and will likely support him. He believes Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic House and Senate leaders share a government-has-all-the-answers attitude, stemming from lifetime political careers. "They don't understand there are other ways to solve problems without federal tax dollars," the Army veteran says. "That's just their upbringing."
But Peter Gillard, a retired Social Security worker, says people criticize government until they need it.
"The attitude is 'As long as it doesn't affect me, government is too big,'" says Gillard, a volunteer at an AFL-CIO Democratic get-out-the-vote phone bank. "But when there's a disaster, like a flood or a hurricane, what's the first thing people say? 'Where's MY government?'"
And in this state where the federal government, according to Fuller, accounts for 32 percent of the economy, candidates tread gingerly.
"You have to be somewhat nuanced in how you attack federal government because many people in Virginia understand their prosperity is in part, dependent on it," says Robert Holsworth, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor. About 375,000 federal workers live in the Washington, D.C., area.