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On Super Tuesday, What Impact Will Virginia Voters Have?

Map of Super Tuesday states
(Image: Jakob Cordes/VPM)

On Tuesday, Virginia holds its presidential primary as part of Super Tuesday, when roughly one-third of Democrats will pick a candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

PolitiFact Virginia editor Warren Fiske sat down with longtime political analyst Bob Holsworth to discuss the primary and answer one central question - will Virginia's results matter in the overall race?

Full Transcript:

Warren Fiske: I'm Warren Fiske with VPM News and with me today is Bob Holsworth, a longtime political scientist in Virginia. It's good to see you, Bob.

Bob Holsworth: Great to be with you Warren. 

Fiske: On Tuesday, Virginia holds its Democratic presidential primary. It'll be part of the Super Tuesday extravaganza when 14 states hold primaries and about one-third of the 3900 delegates to the Democratic National Convention are at stake. But Virginia's got about 124 delegates, will the Virginia vote be significant in choosing this year's Democratic nominee?

Holsworth: I think the Virginia vote will be significant in a couple of ways. First, I think we have to say that certainly, it's the state that's not as large as California and not as large as Texas. So in terms of the total delegate count, Virginia won't be the most significant state, but at the same time, Virginia's demographic, it's a pretty diverse state. We have significant numbers of ethnic minorities. We have rural-urban and suburban jurisdictions, and I think the candidate who does well in Virginia is going to be able to argue that they can do fairly well, nationally. So we're one of the larger states, though not the largest that will be competing on Super Tuesday. And at the same time, we're one of the most diverse states. So I think that a lot of people will be looking at what happens at Virginia as a sort of predictor of what might happen in some other southern states down the way.

Fiske: How's the race shaping up here?

Holsworth: I think it's very difficult to say right now, but certainly, Bernie Sanders has a significant foundation here in Virginia among progressives that he has, you know extremely well known, and by and large, probably is a favorite, but he's a favorite not because he's going to get I think, a Nevada like vote here where we got 45 46%. I'd be shocked if that happened. He's the favorite because of the anti-Sanders candidates are very much divided here. One can imagine that Joe Biden Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, and probably Elizabeth Warren, to some degree, are going to have support in Virginia. And to some degree, I think they're going to divide up the anti-Sanders vote. So my sense is, is that Sanders will likely do relatively well in Virginia, not as well as he did in Nevada. And we're going to have to see whether all the establishment support for Joe Biden that he also has in South Carolina is going to translate into votes here in Virginia

Fiske: South Carolina is going to hold its primary Saturday. Do you think those results could influence what happens in Virginia? 

Holsworth: I think the South Carolina results have the chance certainly of influencing what happens here in Virginia, in particular, if Joe Biden is able to stop the Sanders momentum somewhat in South Carolina and not simply by winning, but if he wins by a comfortable margin, eight points or 10 points, I think that will help to revive the Biden campaign. And it might also take some People who are whose primary motive for voting is to stop Donald Trump and might move them perhaps, from Michael Bloomberg over to Biden, in this sense. So I think South Carolina is going to be very important to Joe Biden, and how Biden actually does in Virgini

Fiske: Are any of the campaigns will organized in Virginia?

Holsworth: I think a number of the campaigns are well organized. I think when we look at what we've seen over the past month or two, however, one has to suggest that Michael Bloomberg probably has the best organization in Virginia. He's hired the most people. He has the most paid staff folks, and he certainly has dominated the airwaves, unlike any other candidate. Now, whether that will translate into significant support in a Democratic primary, we're going to have to see other candidates may not be as well organized on the ground. But what we've seen is they have gotten substantial support from influential people in Virginia. So for example, Joe Biden has supported the Richmond Mayor Levar Stony has the support of congressman McKee chin has the support of congressman Luria. And that clearly should have some kind of impact. Don buyer has supported Pete Buttigieg up in Northern Virginia. I think Elizabeth Warren has, by and large, had grassroots support. And I think she has had a movement here in Virginia like she has had in a number of other states. Warren's challenge, however, is that at least up to now, we haven't seen her grassroots support actually turned into you know, a lot of votes in these primaries and we'll have to see whether Virginia is any different in that regard for her Amy clover char, I think really, we haven't seen too much organization out of her. She really put a lot of her limited resources into into into Iowa and is sort of moving one state at a time. She'll be in Virginia for part of the primary run up But by and large, doesn't have the kind of organization that we've seen out of other folks. Tom Steyer, like Michael Bloomberg, has run ad after ad and Virginia. But I don't think he has the same kind of activity level or influence in Virginia that he might have in the South Carolina primary.

Fiske: Yeah. Do you sense there's a central issue in this race? Is it about who can best run against Donald Trump? Are there other issues at play? 

Holsworth: I think there are two basic issues that are in play. The first and I think foremost is who can beat Donald Trump and what we're seeing in all the polls nationally, that every time people come to vote, what they're saying is that defeating Donald Trump is their first priority. Now, people have very different views of how best to do that. Some people say that it has to be done by appealing to centrist by appealing to those moderate suburbanites who might vote either way. The Sanders people say the only way A beat Donald Trump is not by going toward the middle. But by trying to energize new voters, young voters, ethnic minorities, to put forward a kind of a modern, what Jesse Jackson called 30 years ago, Rainbow coalition. They're arguing that's the best way of doing it. But by and large, I don't think this is a debate that's being or a primary that's going to be run simply on issues. It's going to be run and determined by who the voters in Virginia think is most capable of beating Donald Trump. You know, and I would add one other point about this in Virginia. The message that Donald Trump has used nationally, to great effect in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, is the message that he wants to drain the swamp in Washington, DC, and the challenge for Trump and what makes Trump so anathema. You might say to Virginia democrats is that that message is just not a good message for Virginia. Democrats in Northern Virginia, particularly Fairfax County, and Prince William Arlington and Alexandria, find that message to be totally against what they stand for. And so in that sense, the anti Trump sentiment that you see in parts of Virginia is probably stronger than you see around the rest of the nation.

Fiske: Lastly, Virginia has opened primaries, and that means that Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary. there been some rumors that Trump supporters could turn out to vote for Sanders because they think he's the weakest opponent for President Trump plus four, is there something to that and is going to likely affect the election?

Holsworth: Because Virginia has open primaries, there's always the prospect of what you might call the mischeif vote. People coming in from the other party and voting for a candidate that they actually believe rightfully or wrongfully would be. The weakest candidate in the general election. And certainly, there has been some under the radar talk that Republicans in certain parts of the state are going to come out and vote for Bernie Sanders because they think that Donald Trump would rather run against a socialist. And then then then a person like Joe Biden, or Michael Bloomberg, or Pete, Buddha judge, or Elizabeth Warren, even or Amy clover char. So my sense is that there's probably going to be some Republicans who turn out to vote for mischief purposes. My guess is that Bernie Sanders is going to do pretty well amongst them. But at the end of the day, I think it's likely to have a marginal impact on the vote. So I think we can expect to see some of it. I don't think it's going to be huge. And I think to the extent that we see it, it's likely to benefit Sanders and Hillary Turner you expect
and well, and I just make one other comment. Well, you know, what an interesting coalition you might find that Sanders now Is the candidate of the progressives of the Russians? And now maybe the Virginia Republicans as well.

Fiske: What kind of turnout do you expect? And who does turn out for these elections? Are they the diehard democrats? 

Holsworth: Typically the people who turn out in primary elections are largely folks who are very involved in some fashion of looking at campaigns of watching the debates of people who are activists in the party as well. And my sense is that you know, certainly, those people are going to turn out. But at the same time, I think there's going to be a slightly larger turnout than that because I think a lot of people understand that this is an extremely important election, that at the end of the day, whoever the Democratic candidate is, is going to have make a sort of huge distinction with President Trump, that the stakes in this election are going to be defined as being very, very high. So I expect to see a fairly robust turnout among Democrats on Tuesday.

Fiske: Bob, thank you for coming. We'll look forward to having you back here
again, thanks so much.

Holsworth: Always great to be with you Warren.