In Fight for Nomination, Old Dominion's a Key Battleground

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008


Get ready to be inundated with a series of potentially competitive elections.

Because of the Democratic resurgence in Virginia, voters are going to be facing more choices at the polls over the next two years than they have in decades.

It all starts Feb. 12, with the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

With New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama locked in a close race for the Democratic nomination, and former senator John Edwards vowing to stay in the race until the convention in August, Virginia could be center stage in the fight.

Neither Obama nor Clinton may have a clear advantage after Feb. 5, when voters in multiple states go to the polls on what is known as Super Tuesday. If that happens, the Feb. 12 primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District could become more important.

Obama might have an early edge in Virginia because he has the backing of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), whose reputation nationally could rest on delivering the state for Obama.

Obama's message of reaching out to independents may play well in Virginia, where self-described independents make up about a third of the electorate, according to a Washington Post poll last year.

Virginia voters don't register by political party, so on Feb. 12 they ask for a Democratic or a Republican ballot.

African Americans are critical voting blocs in a Democratic primary. Obama has been endorsed by Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who was the nation's first black governor. Virginia's only black member of Congress, Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, also is supporting Obama.

But Clinton has assembled a national campaign team with plenty of experience winning elections in Virginia. Mike Henry, Clinton's deputy campaign manager, managed Kaine's 2005 bid for governor. Another veteran of the '05 campaign, Mo Eilleithee, serves as chief spokesman for Clinton.

Virginia's Republican primary could be even more interesting than the Democratic contest. Underscoring the recent division within the state party, top Virginia Republicans are divided over who the GOP nominee should be.

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