Virginia Democrats Eager for Primary, Election With the delegate race tightening between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Virginia voters will be in the spotlight as they head to the primaries Tuesday. But no matter who wins, Democrats say the enthusiasm generated by the primary should help their party in this November's election.
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Virginia Democrats Eager for Primary, Election

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Virginia Democrats Eager for Primary, Election

Virginia Democrats Eager for Primary, Election

Virginia Democrats Eager for Primary, Election

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Maryland voter Susan Lower wears a T-shirt featuring Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, as she waits for Clinton's arrival at a town hall meeting in Manassas, Va. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama campaigns Feb. 10 at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

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Win McNamee/Getty Images

Tuesday's nominating contests in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., have been nicknamed various monikers, including the Beltway, Chesapeake and Potomac primaries.

No matter what pundits and political junkies call Tuesday's contests, the name of the game is the same — accumulating delegates.

On the Democratic side, 168 pledged delegates are at stake. Virginia seems to be getting the most attention — not only for its importance in the fight for the Democratic nomination, but also for what the state could do for the party in the fall.

Virginia hasn't been for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In recent years, however, Virginia has elected back-to-back Democrats for governor and unseated a Republican senator, and it is favored to win another Senate seat this year. Now, Democrats hope to carry the state in November for their presidential candidate. But first they will have to decide which Democrat has the best chance.

That's the dilemma facing Norfolk resident Bob Baxter. "If it were the same old game, I think probably Hillary Clinton would have the advantage," he said. "But if Obama can get enough people to get out that haven't been involved with the process before, I think he would have a good chance of turning that around and being able to win."

Baxter was among the 6,000 Democratic Party faithful who met at the annual Jefferson Jackson dinner, where speeches by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama were the headlining events. Looking over the crowd at Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, it was clear that the Obama contingent was very strong.

Hundreds of Obama supporters danced as a marching band led them along the sidewalk. They crowded the upper decks, doing the wave and drowning out Clinton supporters with what seemed like an endless supply of chants. Mary Peterson of Fairfax summed up the mood of many attendees.

"I'm just ready for a new generation and a new face. I'm 66, and I remember Jack Kennedy and how he inspired our generation, and I think Obama has an ability to bring people together," Peterson said.

But there were still undecided voters to be found, such as Renee Mullins of Fairfax.

"Hillary — I'm not real sure about her. I'm not too sure if Brother Bill is going to be some baggage or not. Obama — I like him. He talks a good talk, but can he walk the walk, and for everybody — not just color, not just sex, for everybody," she said.

Susan Brooks of Richmond says she knows Clinton has been campaigning hard for women such as herself.

"I do have some kind of emotional tie to vote for Barack Obama — sort of a rock star persona — but I think I am from the Hillary Clinton generation. I had to blaze a few trails, and I think she's blazed a lot, and I guess I'd love to see a woman president. I'm really torn between the two of them," she said.

Clinton has doubled her efforts in Virginia, launching more radio and TV ads and dispatching her husband to a half-dozen campaign events. After a weekend of victories for Obama in Washington state, Louisiana, Nebraska, Maine and even the Virgin Islands, Clinton must make a play in Virginia.

"The challenge for Clinton is that almost everyone believes that over the next few weeks, Obama will do pretty well, and I think she wants to make sure that she doesn't get blown out in these states," said Bob Holsworth, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Whoever wins Tuesday, the Democrats insist that the enthusiasm shown in the primary could carry over to November — by putting the state's electoral votes in their column for the first time in 44 years.

What's at Stake in the Potomac Primaries?

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona (right) and Virginia Sen. John Warner on Friday at the National Security Roundtable discussion in Norfolk, Va. Gary Knapp/Getty Images hide caption

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Gary Knapp/Getty Images

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton takes the stage for a campaign rally Thursday at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va. Emannuel Dunand/AFP/Photo hide caption

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Emannuel Dunand/AFP/Photo

Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Sen. Barack Obama leaves a plane Wednesday after landing at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Did You Know?

  • The Virginia primary is open, meaning registered voters can participate in either party's contest.
  • The Virginia State Board of Elections received 3,000 phone calls on Super Tuesday from confused voters who thought the state's primary was on Feb. 5, when 24 other states held voting contests. In fact, the Virginia primary takes place a week later, on Feb. 12.
  • Jesse Jackson won the Virginia primary in 1988.

The Republican presidential nomination seemed to belong to Arizona Sen. John McCain, after his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, dropped out of the race. But the race's underdog, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has gained strength as he receives support from conservative Republicans and evangelicals. Although he is far behind McCain in the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination, Huckabee won early voting victories in the Kansas caucuses and Louisiana primary.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama scored major victories over the weekend by winning all of the contests, including the Louisiana primary and caucuses in Maine, Washington and Nebraska. The demographics of Maine were supposed to favor Clinton, since white, poor voters have supported her. Instead, Obama won the state with 59 percent to Clinton's 40 percent — although he has done much better in caucuses.

Clinton also shook up her staff Sunday, replacing her longtime campaign manager with another aide.

A Mason-Dixon poll released Sunday showed Obama leading Clinton 53 percent to 37 percent, and McCain beating Huckabee 55 percent to 27 percent in the so-called "Potomac primaries." The poll was conducted on Feb. 7 and 8.

Both Huckabee and Obama's recent victories make the Potomac primaries even more significant for both parties. Here, an overview of what's at stake on Feb. 12, when Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., hold presidential nominating contests:

The Democrats

Candidates: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

What's at Stake: In a word, delegates. When Super Tuesday's voting contests essentially ended in a draw, both Clinton and Obama refocused their campaigns on the states that followed — and the opportunities these contests offered to pick up delegates. The name of the game is now reaching the magic number of 2,025 delegates. On Tuesday, Virginia will offer the greatest number (83), followed by Maryland (70) and Washington, D.C. (15).

Both sides concede that Obama is likely to win Maryland and D.C., given the large percentage of African-Americans in both locales. The nation's capital has the largest concentration of blacks in the country, with close to 55 percent. Maryland has the fifth largest, with 28.9 percent.

A more competitive battle is likely to take place in Virginia. About one-fifth of Virginia's Democratic primary voters are African American, and the Northern Virginia suburbs include large numbers of high-income and highly educated voters. The state has no registration by party, so any voter can choose to vote in either primary. And with the more or less disappearance of a true Republican contest, many independents and Republicans might decide to vote in the Democratic primary, and thus, vote for Obama. Independents have preferred Obama over Clinton in this year's Democratic primaries and caucuses.

In addition, Obama has received the endorsement of key local politicians, notably Gov. Tim Kaine and Rep. Robert Scott, the state's only black congressman. But as we've seen throughout the election season, the value of endorsements is limited.

Recently, the Clinton campaign has made a play for Virginia's working-class voters and whites — groups who have tended to support her in recent voting.

The Republicans

Candidates: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

What's at Stake: Although McCain has effectively been anointed the de facto Republican nominee, the Arizona senator still has a struggle to win over many conservatives in his party. That is especially true regarding his position on illegal immigration, which many on the right see as "amnesty." When McCain mentioned the word immigration at a recent meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., attendees booed him.

Huckabee, who has shown no indication of pulling out of the race any time soon, has been very popular with Southern Republican voters and evangelicals. (On Super Tuesday, Huckabee carried Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas. The following Saturday, he won the Louisiana primary and the caucuses in Kansas.) Huckabee could benefit from any Republican opposition to McCain in Tuesday's primary.

Issues: As it has been throughout the primary season, the economy is a top issue here. The Iraq war, health care, terrorism and immigration also consistently have been important.