WASHINGTON – The Potomac Primary,to be held in Virginia,Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday,might be more important than Democrats previously expected in the race for the party's presidential nomination.
After Super Tuesday's string of primaries in 24 states,it became clear that neither of the Democratic frontrunners,Sens. Hillary Clinton,D-N.Y.,and Barack Obama,D-Ill.,held a clear lead.
The Republican nomination,on the other hand,is all but decided after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dropped out of the race Thursday after his disappointing finish on Feb. 5. Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz.,won the majority of delegates from the 22 states holding GOP primaries.
When the Republicans vote in the Mid-Atlantic region,119 delegates will be at stake – 19 from D.C.,37 from Maryland and 63 from Virginia.
Democrats will be vying for 237 delegates – 37 from D.C.,99 from Maryland and 101 from Virginia.
Political endorsements from celebrities have been top news throughout the primary season – Oprah Winfrey supports Obama,Jack Nicholson favors Clinton and Chuck Norris has campaigned for GOP candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
In the Potomac Primary states,where politics plays such a prominent role year-round,it's politicians,not Hollywood types,who are the celebrity endorsers.
On Wednesday,Anne Holton,wife of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine,D,and 15 other prominent Virginia women leaders announced they had formed a group called Women for Obama. The group includes television commentator and journalist Megan Beyer,the wife of former lieutenant governor Donald S Beyer Jr.; State Delegate Vivian Watts,D-Fairfax; three state senators and Lisa Collis,wife of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner,D.
Holton said the group was releasing a list of more than 150 other women supporters from across the state.
“I think it's really the case that we're all thrilled to have so many good choices this year,” Holton said. “But it is worth making the point of Senator Obama having great strength across the genders.”
Holton said that she looks forward to campaigning in Virginia for Obama,starting with an event Saturday.
“I've always understood politics to be a kind of calling – a higher form of service and a real service to the community. My husband's approach has certainly been the same and Senator Obama is the same way,” said Holton,whose Republican father was governor from 1970 to 1974.
Obama will hold a rally Monday at the University of Maryland in College Park,Md.
Though his wife has endorsed Obama,Mark Warner has not endorsed anyone. A spokesman said that because Warner is running for an open Senate seat,he hopes to maintain a “cooperative and productive” relationship with both Clinton and Obama. Warner will support the Democratic nominee in the fall.
Clinton also has an impressive list of supporters in the region. In Maryland,that includes Gov. Martin O'Malley,Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Sen. Barbara Mikulski. In Virginia,she has support from a number of state senators and delegates.
Virginia Delegate Lionell Spruill,D-Chesapeake and Suffolk,in the Southeastern corner of the state,supports Clinton because he believes she can win the general election.
“I've been going to churches and calling around,trying to get support from the black community as well as the white community. I've been reminding everyone that we have two good candidates,” Spruill said. “But who can win in November?”
Similarly,Delegate Albert C. Eisenberg,D-Arlington,said Clinton “has a tremendous grip on the issues and has been through just about everything that you can imagine – both personal as well as in her career.”
Eisenberg acknowledged that it's been a close race between Obama and Clinton in Northern Virginia,a Washington suburb populated with government workers and contractors.
On the Republican side,former Gov. Robert Ehrlich of Maryland and George Allen of Virginia,a former U.S. senator and Virginia governor,back McCain. Other Virginia supporters include Sen. John Warner,Rep. Tom Davis,former Attorney Gen. Jerry Kilgore and 14 state delegates.
Without making exact predictions,the elections boards overseeing the Potomac Primary are preparing for a large turnout.
Nancy Rodrigues,secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections,said that some voters were confused about primaries on Super Tuesday.
“We had approximately 700 phone calls from across the state – from individuals looking to see why their polling place wasn't open that day,” she said.
Judging by absentee ballot requests and other recent primaries,the Virginia board expects 30 or 40 percent turnout of registered voters on Tuesday,Rodrigues said. She said that absentee ballot requests have been higher for Democrats than Republicans.
In Virginia,there are 4.6 million registered voters. Over 14 days before the registration period ended,37,064 new voters registered,most of whom were under the age of 25.
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics also expects higher turnout than in the past. Four years ago,the turnout rate for the primary was 12.9 percent,compared to 2000,when the turnout rate was 8.8 percent and 1996,when it was 8.4 percent,spokesman William R. O'Field said.
There have been 2,202 requests for absentee ballots in D.C.,and 628 people have already voted early in person at the office,as of Thursday.
Registration for the D.C. primary closed in mid-January. There are 377,007 registered voters – 74 percent are Democrats,and 7.5 percent are Republicans.
David Meadows,communications director for the Democratic Party of D.C.,said that some wards have a higher turnout than others. In particular,precinct 89,the heart of Capitol Hill,generally has high participation rates.
The Maryland Democratic Party is expecting more than a million primary voters.
“Baltimore,Prince George's County,Montgomery County,Anne Arundel and Howard County have heavy turnout,but everywhere Democrats are excited and energized – from coast to mountains,” said David Paulson,a party spokesman.
In Maryland and Virginia,17-year-olds are allowed to vote in the primary as long as they'll be 18 on Election Day in November. Paulson said that normally about 3,500 17-year-olds register to vote in the Maryland primary. This year,that number is up to 15,200 – 68 percent of whom have registered as Democrats.
There are 3.1 million registered voters in Maryland – 55 percent are Democrats and 28 percent are Republicans. Voter turnout in the primary election in 2004 was 23.7 percent and in 2000,it was 34.7 percent.
Maryland Republicans sponsored a “pre-primary celebration” dinner Thursday,which sold out. Romney had been planning to attend,but did not show up after dropping out of the race earlier in the day. McCain gave the keynote speech.