ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Let's look ahead to the next round of contests. After weekend caucuses in Washington State and the primary in Louisiana, the Democrats and the Republicans take part in what people are calling the Potomac primary.

Next Tuesday, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia all vote on the same day. You'll be hearing a lot about those three jurisdictions in the coming week and we're going to hear now about one of them, Virginia.

Jeff Schapiro is a political reporter and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He's been writing about Virginia politics since 1980 and he joins us from the Virginia State House.

It's rare that Virginia has what could be an influential if not decisive primary.

Mr. JEFF SCHAPIRO (Political Reporter; Columnist, Richmond Times-Dispatch): Oh, indeed. And in fact, the conventional wisdom heading into the Virginia primary is that it might have the effect of clearing up the Republican contest. But it's quite clear that it may have a more decisive effect on the Democratic side.

SIEGEL: This is an open primary, in Virginia.

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Ah, yes. This is the all-come primary as they say in the south. Virginians do not register by party and so they can vote in either primary. So this will be an important test of the cross-party pulling appeal, if I may put it that way, of Senator Obama and Senator McCain, both of whom have made enthusiastic pitches to independent and non-affiliated voters.

SIEGEL: Some big endorsements also in Virginia.

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Oh, indeed. Virginia's Governor Tim Kaine was the first governor outside of Illinois, Senator Obama's home state, to endorse the senator and he is a national co-chair of the Obama campaign. So this is very much a test of Kaine's pulling power. He's having some difficulty dealing with this divided general assembly which is in session right now. So I think for kicks, if only for morale, a strong performance, a win by Obama, would probably be a welcome distraction from some of the difficulties he's having at the State House.

SIEGEL: When you look at the returns in other states and see which groups voted for whom in the Democratic side; say for Obama or for Clinton. If you took those demographics and played them out through Virginia, which side looks at Virginia and says that's my kind of state?

Mr. SCHAPIRO: I'm - you know, when I think of states that are, you know, kind of similar in size and makeup to Virginia, I think of, you know, a state like Missouri. It's about the same size. The budget is about the same size. It has, you know, these urban pockets in large rural areas. You know, the tension in this state is now very much suburban-rural. And if one would look at a map of Virginia, everything east of Interstate 95 is pretty much suburban. Everything west is still solidly rural where a lot of the older themes of politics retain a special appeal. But along the Interstate 95, I-64 corridor is where the votes are, where the money is. This is where the politics tend to be more moderate.

Virginia is a - to the outside world, is of the south.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SCHAPIRO: It really is very much of the mid-Atlantic.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Certainly, once you get north of Richmond, it's certainly a mid-Atlantic state.

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Well, considering, you know, the African-American vote is only about, you know, 15 percent of the electorate. The registration rates might be somewhat higher but we have this growing, you know, Asian and Latino presence as well.

SIEGEL: This has also got to be the primary with the highest per capita ratio of political journalists anywhere on the planet, I would think.

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Oh, indeed. I think it could be argued that the political journalists in abundance in Washington, D.C., constitute an unusual voting bloc.

SIEGEL: A voting bloc, even, next Tuesday. Well, Jeff Schapiro, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Jeff Schapiro is a political reporter and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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