“Virginia looks a lot like America and the Republican Party in Virginia looks a lot like America too,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “A victory here matters more than a than a victory in some other states because we have a Republican presence in Virginia that it is very, very different, very, very diverse compared to the Republican electorates in some other states.”
In Virginia, the Republican tent ranges from defense hawks, to libertarians, to tea party supporters and back to small government, pro-business traditional conservatives, he said.
Though he is not expected to win, Rubio will find support among suburban conservatives in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads who are put off by Trump’s strident style and who are looking for a candidate who is less combative and who can win in November, Farnsworth said.
Trump, meanwhile, performs well among evangelical Christians and in areas where white voters are concerned about immigration, areas like Prince William County, he said.
As for the Democrats, Virginia will be an uphill battle for Bernie Sanders, who has not spent much time in the state, Farnsworth said.
Virginia’s Democratic political establishment has lined up behind Hillary Clinton, led by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. She has been actively campaigning in the state and stopped at George Mason University Monday and was later expected in Norfolk.
The expectations for the Clinton camp are high here.
“Virginia is not just a must-win for Hillary Clinton to demonstrate her credibility as a candidate, but it’s also a must-win by a significant margin,” Farnsworth said.