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Virginia Democrats Eager for Primary, Election

Maryland voter Susan Lower wears a T-shirt featuring Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, as she waits for Clinton's arrival at a town hall meeting in Manassas, Va.
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Maryland voter Susan Lower wears a T-shirt featuring Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, as she waits for Clinton's arrival at a town hall meeting in Manassas, Va.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama campaigns Feb. 10 at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama campaigns Feb. 10 at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.

Tuesday's nominating contests in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., have been nicknamed various monikers, including the Beltway, Chesapeake and Potomac primaries.

No matter what pundits and political junkies call Tuesday's contests, the name of the game is the same — accumulating delegates.

On the Democratic side, 168 pledged delegates are at stake. Virginia seems to be getting the most attention — not only for its importance in the fight for the Democratic nomination, but also for what the state could do for the party in the fall.

Virginia hasn't been for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In recent years, however, Virginia has elected back-to-back Democrats for governor and unseated a Republican senator, and it is favored to win another Senate seat this year. Now, Democrats hope to carry the state in November for their presidential candidate. But first they will have to decide which Democrat has the best chance.

That's the dilemma facing Norfolk resident Bob Baxter. "If it were the same old game, I think probably Hillary Clinton would have the advantage," he said. "But if Obama can get enough people to get out that haven't been involved with the process before, I think he would have a good chance of turning that around and being able to win."

Baxter was among the 6,000 Democratic Party faithful who met at the annual Jefferson Jackson dinner, where speeches by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama were the headlining events. Looking over the crowd at Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, it was clear that the Obama contingent was very strong.

Hundreds of Obama supporters danced as a marching band led them along the sidewalk. They crowded the upper decks, doing the wave and drowning out Clinton supporters with what seemed like an endless supply of chants. Mary Peterson of Fairfax summed up the mood of many attendees.

"I'm just ready for a new generation and a new face. I'm 66, and I remember Jack Kennedy and how he inspired our generation, and I think Obama has an ability to bring people together," Peterson said.

But there were still undecided voters to be found, such as Renee Mullins of Fairfax.

"Hillary — I'm not real sure about her. I'm not too sure if Brother Bill is going to be some baggage or not. Obama — I like him. He talks a good talk, but can he walk the walk, and for everybody — not just color, not just sex, for everybody," she said.

Susan Brooks of Richmond says she knows Clinton has been campaigning hard for women such as herself.

"I do have some kind of emotional tie to vote for Barack Obama — sort of a rock star persona — but I think I am from the Hillary Clinton generation. I had to blaze a few trails, and I think she's blazed a lot, and I guess I'd love to see a woman president. I'm really torn between the two of them," she said.

Clinton has doubled her efforts in Virginia, launching more radio and TV ads and dispatching her husband to a half-dozen campaign events. After a weekend of victories for Obama in Washington state, Louisiana, Nebraska, Maine and even the Virgin Islands, Clinton must make a play in Virginia.

"The challenge for Clinton is that almost everyone believes that over the next few weeks, Obama will do pretty well, and I think she wants to make sure that she doesn't get blown out in these states," said Bob Holsworth, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Whoever wins Tuesday, the Democrats insist that the enthusiasm shown in the primary could carry over to November — by putting the state's electoral votes in their column for the first time in 44 years.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.