Barack Obama soundly defeated chief Democratic rival Hillary Clinton Tuesday night during the three Potomac primaries, extending the momentum he had gained with four victories last weekend and erasing a Clinton lead once thought to be insurmountable.
Obama won about 63 percent of the Democratic vote compared with Clinton's 36 percent as about 971,000 people cast ballots in Virginia's Democratic primary, more than double the number of votes cast in the Republican election.
On the GOP side, John McCain captured slightly more than 50 percent of the Virginia Republican primary vote, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won just just less than 40 percent with nearly all precincts reporting early Thursday morning. Nearly 475,000 people voted in the Republican primary, about 10 percent of registered voters.
Virginians are not required to register with parties before voting, which allows them to vote in whichever primary they choose.
"Past primaries were insignificant, so there is nothing to compare [this one to]," Dan Palazzolo, professor of political science, wrote in an e-mail interview late Wednesday night.
Young people turned out in droves to register for this election. More than 22,500 people under the age of 25 registered to vote during the first two weeks of January before the registration deadline, Virginia's State Board of Elections reported. That comprised about 60 percent of new registrants.
About 75 percent of people voting age 17 to 29 voted for Obama, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and other television networks.
"Obama is getting the young vote in state after state," Palazzolo said. "Obama has clearly expanded the electorate [by] inspiring people to vote for the first time."
Chris Cotten, president of the university's Young Democrats, said he was surprised by Obama's margin of victory in Virginia, a sentiment echoed by Palazzolo.
Senior Megan Sherrier, a Mechanicsville, Va., native, said she voted for Obama during Tuesday's primary, but had been undecided until recently.
"His vision for change and fresh politics is most appealing," said Sherrier, who said she did not identify herself as a Democrat and was deciding between Obama and McCain. "It was exciting to see the returns knowing you were part of the process."
Obama's plan for improving the education system in cities was a key issue in her decision process, she said.
Although some university students voted, College Republicans chairman Timothy Patterson said it was difficult to get the majority of people on campus engaged in Virginia politics because so many people live in other states. Many people, he said, had registered to vote in their home states.
In speaking about the Republican race, Patterson said Huckabee was continuing to make the race interesting.
"A lot of people are calling on Huckabee to get out," Patterson said. "Personally, I think it's a good thing for the party that he's staying in because he's engaging the conservative part of the party. When the time comes to get behind McCain, people will get more excited about doing so."
With Obama's string of victories in the states of Washington, Nebraska, Louisiana and Maine last weekend and his sweep of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Palazzolo said Obama had definitely established himself as the Democratic frontrunner.
"He is clearly on a roll," he said. "Obama has defined the terms of the Democratic campaign. It's more about change than experience. The combination of his persona and his message of unifying the country and moving beyond partisan divisions has captured Democrats and independents.
He said Clinton had attempted to embrace the idea of change, but she had failed to represent it.
Obama gained critical ground against demographics once strongly reliable for Clinton, Palazzolo said, particularly the Latino vote. Clinton was garnering between 60 and 65 percent of the Latino vote, but lost it in Virginia.
Focus now shifts to March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio for the Democrats, where Clinton holds a 17 percent lead. Palazzolo said he predicted Obama's momentum would overwhelm her advantage, and that if Clinton could not win these two states, the race would be all but finished.
"Obama has defined the meaning of the election," he said. "He is the choice, Clinton is the echo"