Virginia’s Presidential Primary: When Duty Is A Yawner

Warning: Thomas Jefferson will desecrate the wives (or husbands) of those who fail to cast a ballot.

On Tuesday, February 12, dedicated Virginians of all political persuasions will head to the polls to cast votes in the Democratic and Republican primaries. Unfortunately, the votes aren’t likely to count for much.

As an exercise in democracy, the national primary system – established after the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention when Hubert Humphrey won the nomination despite the popular support for anti-Vietnam War candidate Eugene McCarthy – is traditionally exciting only for the month of January. That’s when most of the second-tier candidates tend to vanish from the scene.

The trend is holding.

By February 12, all of four (maybe six) of the 12 candidates whose names will be printed on Virginia’s primary ballots will remain realistic contenders for the White House.

That’s because the majority of delegates will be selected by February 5. It began with elections in Iowa, Wyoming and New Hampshire. South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and follow suit over the next week or so. Then 25 states throw down their votes in February (22 of them on February 5).

As it stands now, only three Dems remain standing – Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama. On the Republican front Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Mitt Romney are likely contenders. Libertarian Ron Paul also continues to play hard.

And yet by the time the voters of Virginia weigh in, it will either matter a little or not at all.

In the first case, there’s an off chance that both parties will enter Virginia’s primary with candidates fighting for delegates – everyone wins enough between now and then to bank on a fight for the nomination at the parties’ respective conventions. If everyone limps into Virginia with the nomination just out of reach, every votes will matter – a little.

Odds are strong that the February 5 Super Tuesday will balance the scales – pushing a candidate from both parties to the front of the pack. If an early February vote gives one candidate a significant edge, Virginia (along with DC and Maryland, who both have primaries on the same day) will just be window-dressing.

Some Primary Basics

Since voting is en vogue, here are a few things you should know about Virginia’s primary.

In order of appearance on the ballot (the order was determined by a random drawing in December), Virginians can cast votes for:

The Democrats: Barack Obama, Dennis Kuchinich, Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden or John Edwards. (Richardson and Biden have withdrawn from the race.)

The Republicans: Ron Paul, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney.

The primary rules are simple. Virginia does not register voters by party affiliation, so if you are registered to vote you have the right to vote in the Virginia primary. Primary voting will be held in the normal polling locations.

The Republican winner will take all 63 delegates in the Republican primary.

The Dems play it with a bit more complexity. Only 54 of the 103 Democratic delegates will be apportioned by the primary vote in each congressional district; another 29 will be assigned based on statewide results. Another 18 unpledged delegates will be selected at the Virginia State Democratic Convention in June.

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John Sarvay

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