Presidential candidates are now turning their attention toward the Feb. 12 Potomac Primary in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., where voters now find themselves in an influential position for this year's presidential race.
Super Tuesday election returns from 24 states two days ago have left Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois deadlocked for the Democratic Party nomination.
For the Republicans, Sen. John McCain of Arizona established a commanding lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, both of whom vowed to continue fighting for their party's nomination despite trailing in the race.
"Especially given the Super Tuesday results, the Virginia primary will matter now more than ever," Chris Cotten, president of the University of Richmond Young Democrats, wrote in an e-mail interview late yesterday. "[Clinton and Obama] will both be looking towards the primaries next Tuesday, including Virginia's, to build more momentum and pull away from his or her rival."
Campaigning in Virginia for the Commonwealth's 83 delegates has been limited so far, but with the Democratic race still undecided, the Clinton and Obama campaigns are beginning Virginia tours.
Both will be in Richmond on Saturday for the Jefferson-Jackson Democratic fundraising dinner.
Clinton will be campaigning in Alexandria, Va., today as well. On Saturday, the states of Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska will hold Democratic primaries, but fewer delegates are at stake in those areas than in the Potomac primary.
"The Democratic campaigns will be very active, so expect a strong turnout," said Dan Palazzolo, professor of political science, in an e-mail interview. "I hesitate to handicap the race, but I think Obama has a slight edge in terms of endorsements, the African American vote and independents."
Timothy Patterson, chairman of the university's College Republicans, said students truly had an opportunity to have their voices heard this Tuesday.
"The theme of 'change' really resonates with college students," Patterson wrote in an e-mail. "And we have a chance on Tuesday to shape the sort of change we envision."
Virginia could prove to be one of the last battleground states for Republicans, and deliver a decisively key victory to front-runner McCain, Palazzolo said.
Obama and Clinton will be fighting for 168 delegate votes in Maryland and Washington, D.C., both considered Democratic strongholds. When combined with Virginia, the three jurisdictions could establish a Democratic favorite leading up the March 4 primaries in Texas, Vermont, Rhode Island and Ohio, Palazzolo said.
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But one question remains: Who will win the precincts in the northern Virginia suburbs?
"It will be a battleground," Palazzolo said. "I suspect Obama will do well in precincts closer to [Washington, D.C.], though Clinton should do well among Hispanic voters."
Cotten said some people had already been looking toward Virginia as a barometer of how independent voters view presidential candidates in both parties.
Virginia has long been a state dominated by Republican voters, but recent election years indicate the state has shifted its support toward the Democratic voice.
In 2005, Gov. Timothy Kaine, a Democrat, was elected, defeating former attorney general Jerry Kilgore, a Republican.
U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, also a Virginia Democrat, stunned incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen during the 2006 election, beating him in a close race that tipped the balance of power in Congress in favor of the Democrats. Last November's legislative elections again showed Virginia voters' discontent with the Republican Party, as the Democrats gained considerable ground on the Republican majority in the General Assembly.
Palazzolo said Super Tuesday's results indicated Obama seemed to perform better in open primaries such as Virginia's, and that both Obama and McCain seem to garner more votes from independents. He said he expected McCain to do well with military families near Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
Said Patterson: "College students in Virginia have the unique opportunity to really influence this race, and with a state political landscape so divided, it's truly an opportunity we can't pass up."
Collegian staff writer Ryan Byrnes contributed reporting for this story.
Contact staff writer Dan Petty at firstname.lastname@example.org
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