|Virginia 2013 vote when Democrats won every statewide office|
Once upon a time Virginia was so predictable in how it would vote in presidential elections that the elections in the state were almost boring. Now, with the Republican Party increasing unable to win statewide - the urbanized areas now can out vote the extremists in the rural areas - and Obama having won the state in 2008 and 2012, things have become more interesting and tumultuous. For political junkies, that's a good thing, even if more nerve wracking. A piece in the Virginian Pilot looks at the coming presidential battle for Virginia. Here are some highlights:
Virginia has so far mostly been flyover country for presidential contenders zooming between New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa - the early primary and caucus states in next year's election.
But it won't stay that way: Virginia is viewed as key to victory in 2016. As one of a handful of "must win" states, several in the growing field of presidential candidates are building campaigns in the Old Dominion.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz launched his bid for the Republican nomination in March at Liberty University in Lynchburg. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the school's commencement speaker Saturday. Those appearances likely have more to do with wooing support from conservative Christians who flock to the school, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, from around the country.
What isn't yet evident is the money that's beginning to flow and the strategies that are beginning to form as political consultants try to figure out the key to winning a state that twice voted for President Barack Obama.
Larry Sabato, a University of Virginian political scientist, stressed that it's "ridiculously early" to draw any conclusions about what might happen given the large field of [GOP] candidates. Three more Republicans entered the contest this week: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina and neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
There no sense in trying to handicap the race at this point, Sabato said, noting that the parties' primary debates begin in August. "Some of these candidates won't even make it to Iowa," he said.
Nonetheless, says Curtis Colgate, GOP chairman for the 2nd Congressional District, "Your hardcore activists are already choosing sides."
The first critical decision may come in June, when Virginia Republicans will determine what method they'll use to decide whom to back at the national convention, Colgate said. The state central committee is expected to decide whether to conduct a preference primary on March 1 - as the Democrats expect to do - or to assign their national delegates through a state convention.
The convention can be moneymaker for the state party, as presidential candidates reach out to local party groups and individuals rather than conducting broad media campaigns aimed at all voters. A convention also can give committed GOP activists more say than a primary that is open to all voters.
In the competition for the Democratic nomination, Clinton has a lock on support from top state Democrats.
Sabato, who leads U.Va.'s Center for Politics, predicted that once the parties have their nominees, Virginians can expect to see a lot of them and their surrogates during the general election.
Virginia will be one of seven states that will decide the presidency, "unless it turns into a landslide," he said.
Look for the presidential campaigns and their supporting PACs to spend considerably more in 2016 than they unloaded in 2012, when a blizzard of ads and voter outreach efforts on behalf of President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney blanketed the state, Sabato said. The two campaigns collectively spent roughly $2 billion.
"Believe me, if I had the cash right now, I'd invest in any TV station in Virginia," Sabato said.