Virginia primary looms large for Dems

After yesterday's Super Tuesday primaries left Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in a virtual dead heat in the fight for the Democratic nomination for president, Virginia and its 103 delegates are more coveted this year than any in recent memory. That means Clinton and Obama will fight hard for the hearts and minds of Virginians everywhere between now and the statewide primary on February 12.

"It's anybody's guess who the nominee will be," says UVA professor and political pundit Larry Sabato. "Clinton has an instant advantage, which she showed last night, but Obama is the early favorite in the mid-Atlantic primaries due to the large African-American vote."

According to Sabato, that means that Charlottesvile probably hasn't seen the last of Clinton or Obama. "I wouldn't be surprised to see them both come through town," he says. "I don't know what time or where, but I would keep my ear close to the ground."

As for who he thinks will walk away the victor next Tuesday, Sabato says it's a toss-up whose outcome depends on which candidate can mobilize his or her key constituencies to the polls. "Clinton gets Latinos, women, and blue-collar workers. Put that together, and she's got a good base in certain parts of the state, especially in Northern Virginia, where there are a lot of women who support her to be the first woman president," says Sabato. "For Obama, he's got to maximize the African-American vote, the youth vote, and the upscale, highly educated vote in places like Charlottesville, Williamsburg, and Blacksburg."

There's even more at stake than the nomination for the Commonwealth's internal politics. Governor Tim Kaine was an early supporter of Obama's, endorsing his fellow Harvard Law alum soon after the Illinois senator announced his candidacy in February 2007. According to Sabato, that means Kaine has a lot to gain– or lose– with Tuesday's vote. "Kaine has put a lot of political capital on the table," says Sabato. "Mark Warner produced a two-to-one victory for John Kerry in 2004 over John Edwards. Kaine has to do the same."

As for the Republican side, despite Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) not being able to declare an across-the-board victory last night, Sabato says that Virginia's Republican primary will not be nearly as consequential because he says McCain's nomination is imminent. "McCain will be the nominee," says Sabato. "It's impossible to see how Romney or Huckabee could be nominated at this point."

To vote in the primaries, all registered voters can go to their regular polling place to cast their ballots. Anyone can vote in either primary, just not in both. The polls open at 6am and close at 7pm.