The Republican presidential candidates are competing for delegates across 10 states, including the swing-state of Virginia. Democrats hope the Republicans' emphasis on social issues will work to their advantage.
In the 2008 presidential election, Virginians voted for a Democrat for the first time in 40 years. This time around, Virginia is considered by both parties to be one of the hotly contested "swing states." The Republicans returned to power here in 2010.
They have not only passed a law that for the first time in 20 years allows Virginians to buy more than one firearm a month, they have also passed legislation that requires women to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion, despite the fact that it hardly shows anything during the early stages of pregnancy, since the procedure is performed on the abdomen. The Republicans shied away from requiring a vaginal ultrasound after angry protests by women and mockery by television satire shows.
"The upside of that situation is that we have exposed the real agenda of the governing party here in Virginia," says Catherine Read as she sips her coffee. "And that will help President Obama. Women are angry, and there is nothing as formidable as thousands of angry women."
The graceful 50-year-old Read sits in Bombay Café, an Indian restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia. She is concerned that the advances women made during the marches of the 1970s and with the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, are now under threat.
The mother of three cannot understand how Republican candidates like Rick Santorum question those rights, or why that battle is being refought not only in Virginia, but across the nation. Santorum, the ultraconservative former senator from Pennsylvania, is one of the last four remaining Republican presidential candidates. He is against abortion, birth control and prenatal diagnosis.
Santorum has successfully garnered support among Republicans - he won the caucuses in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. But Read is sure that the former senator would be the easiest opponent for Obama to beat.
"The best person to run against Obama would be Rick Santorum, because he is so far on the fringe that when it really comes to going to the ballot box there are a lot of people who will not be able to pull that lever, even if they're Republican," Read says.
On Tuesday in Virginia, voters will not be able to preference Santorum, or New Gingrich for that matter, since neither is registered on the ballot.
Two man race
Both Santorum and Gingrich are running bare bones campaigns due to a chronic lack of financing. Both candidates failed to fulfill the requirements for participating in the caucuses in Virginia, which has 40 delegates up for grabs. So on Tuesday, voters will have the choice of either Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, or Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
"I think Mitt Romney is a far more formidable candidate for Obama because he is more moderate, he flat out is, as much as he's trying to appease the right-wing base, he's a moderate," Read says.
She does not believe that Ron Paul has any chance of winning the nomination, although the Congressman could cost the other candidates votes as long as he stays in the running thanks to his devoted following.
Yet Republicans still haven't warmed to Romney, even though he has already won eight of the primary contests. Corporate consultant Bart Marcois, who supported Romney back in 2008, does not understand what's keeping the party from getting behind the former governor. Marcois says that Romney, who has faced criticism for not being personable enough, does not need to act like a buddy - he just needs to act like a presidential candidate.
Marcois sits on his beige couch in the living room of his house in Springfield, Virginia. He previously worked for the George W. Bush administration and is now self-employed after serving as a diplomat in the Middle East for 10 years. Marcois views Romney as the candidate in the Republican field that can put the economy back on the track, successfully work with Congress and beat Obama. The self-employed consultant does not believe that the battle for the nomination will be fought at the convention in Tampa, Florida, in August. Marcois is convinced that Romney will win enough delegates before then.
Predictions of a brokered convention or a fifth candidate jumping into the race have begun to peter out in the aftermath of Romney's recent string of victories. On Super Tuesday, the former governor has the opportunity to increase his lead over the other three candidates. A victory for him in Virginia seems sure, likewise in Massachusetts. All eyes are now focused on Ohio, the state where Santorum is trying to challenge Romney. Many scenarios are possible - it could be that the race continues.
A long fight
Romney predicted last summer that it would be a long, hard fight, says Marcois, who believes that the former governor has the discipline and the organization to win. Although Marcois finds the long primary process nerve-wracking, he says that ultimately it's for the best, since the job at stake is so important.
What would have happened, for example, if Gingrich had managed to secure a victory after the first few primary states? Then the door would have been opened to demagoguery, says Marcois, while admitting that he would vote for Gingrich if he won the nomination. At the moment, Gingrich's chances do not look good, although the former House speaker remains optimistic. He is counting on a victory in Georgia, the state which he represented in Congress. The delegate count, however, puts Gingrich in last place.
The nomination process is taking longer this time around due to a change in the Republicans' primary rules. For the first time, the winner of a state primary is not awarded all the delegates - instead, they are allocated proportionally. In addition, a Supreme Court ruling has allowed so-called Super PACs to contribute unlimited amounts of money to support a candidate of their choice, so long as they do not directly coordinate with the campaign. That has made it possible for candidates like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to stay in the race longer.
Super PAC influence
Super PACs have completely changed the election dynamic, according to Tom Perriello, president of the progressive Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello believes that money is now playing a more decisive role than ever before in the nomination process. The influence of companies and wealthy individuals has grown tremendously, which benefited Romney in Florida when he came from behind to defeat Gingrich thanks to a massive and expensive campaign.
"His ability to survive initially was based entirely on the ability of large donors to write massive checks," said Perriello, a Democrat who represented Virginia in Congress before being defeated by his conservative challenger in 2010.
Perriello sees at least a 50 percent chance of Obama winning in Virginia, depending on the state of the economy when the election rolls around.
"If the economy continues to improve and the president is seen as having been at the helm of that, that will probably be enough to bring him to victory in Virginia," he said.
In the end, the economy is more important than social issues. In addition, Perriello points out that in Virginia there are many military bases, which could be a positive for Obama due to the president's good relationship with the military. And a victory in Virginia this November would be a decisive step toward winning the presidency, according to Perriello.
Author: Christina Bergmann / slk
Editor: Darren Mara