Virginia’s GOP prize could lift Rubio Tuesday

See all Virginia election results as they come in here.

WASHINGTON — Among all the states up for grabs Tuesday, Marco Rubio’s best chance to beat Donald Trump, or at least slow his momentum, could come in Virginia.

The state’s multifaceted Republican electorate and mix of rural and urban areas offers a unique test for the candidates and matches up with Rubio’s key voter bloc.

Virginia boasts multiple major metropolitan areas and a higher percentage of Republican voters with college degrees — factors that could benefit Rubio, said Geoff Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

In other contests held so far, Rubio has done well in urban areas and he’s garnered support among college graduates, Skelley said.

“Virginia presents Rubio with an opportunity,” he said. If Rubio does well in Virginia, “it gives him something to talk about, which could then boost him.”

After losing to Ted Cruz in Iowa, Trump has won contest after contest. Skelley predicts that if Trump wins the winner-takes-all state of Florida on March 15, he’ll have locked in the GOP nomination.

But Rubio, Ted Cruz and even John Kasich have the chance to pick up delegates and keep their campaigns alive Tuesday when Virginia and 11 other states hold GOP nominating contests.

“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.

And 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.

Trump’s Virginia campaign chair Corey Stewart has taken a tough stand on illegal immigration as a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. “That county is really focused on the issue in a way that many other counties have not,” Farnsworth said.

Other key counties to watch Tuesday night as results roll in will be Chesterfield County, a suburb of Richmond, and the biggest Republican jurisdiction in the state. Several of the campaigns including Trump and Rubio have focused their campaigns on the Hampton Roads area too, 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.

Clinton is expected to do well with voters in Northern Virginia and among black voters in Central and Southeastern Virginia. Sanders support will likely come from university towns and areas with a high percentage of young voters. And that means voter-rich communities like deep blue Arlington County and Alexandria could pose problems for Clinton, he said.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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