By Diana DiGangi, James Miessler, Matt Chaney and Margaret Carmel
Capital News Service
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trounced Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary election on Tuesday, and billionaire businessman Donald Trump narrowly defeated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican contest.
With almost all precincts reporting, Clinton received more than 64 percent of the 780,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary. Sanders got 35 percent.
More than 1 million Virginians voted in the Republican primary. Trump got nearly 35 percent of the votes, followed by Rubio at almost 32 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at about 17 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich at about 9 percent.
Interviews at polling places in Richmond underscored the issues and other factors that motivated voters to support or oppose certain candidates.
Young and old voters turned out in droves at the Randolph Community Center polling place (Precinct 504), about 10 minutes from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park campus. Several voters cited fear of a Trump nomination as their reason for coming out to vote.
“Honestly, as a woman, I’m terrified of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz becoming president,” said Kirsten Schlegel, a VCU senior who voted for Clinton. “I’m terrified of our rights being taken away.”
Paula Johnson voted for Clinton as well, and said it was important to her to “select someone who’s going to represent us well, like when it comes to picking the new Supreme Court justice.”
At the Dominion Place polling station (Precinct 206), also near the VCU campus, many young people supported Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist.
“It’s my first time being able to vote, and so I wanted to come out because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Brianna Frontuto, a VCU student, said. “I voted for Bernie Sanders because his policy platform lines up exactly with what I believe in. He’s defending students, and that’s hard to find in candidates.”
Among Republican voters at the Dominion Place, several young people came out in support of Rubio.
“Rubio is the only one I feel morally conscious to support,” Adam Stynchula said. “He’s a safe bet.”
Voters at the Tabernacle Baptist Church polling location (Precinct 208) voiced similar sentiments.
Chelsea, a woman in her 20s who declined to give her last name, said, “I voted for Marco Rubio because he’s a very optimistic candidate. He’s very articulate about a lot of values that I believe in and I hate Donald Trump. And so, I really wanted to get my voice out there for a positive candidate who has a real vision for America’s future.”
Some voters said they usually cast ballots in the Democratic primary, but they participated in this year’s Republican election because of their dislike for Trump.
“I normally vote Democratic, but I actually voted Republican in this because I wanted to make sure that Donald Trump is not on the ballot,” said a student named Jamie. “I just think it’s kind of tight this year with the way things are playing out … At first I started out thinking, that’s kind of a joke, Donald Trump. But now it’s looking close.”
Statewide, however, Trump topped Rubio by winning Hampton Roads and the southern and southwestern parts of the state.
Virginia Republican leaders gathered in Old Town Alexandria just outside of the nation’s capital as the votes rolled in. As a battleground state that has voted blue in the last two election cycles, all eyes are on Virginia.
“Republicans cannot win the White House without winning Virginia,” said John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. “We’re looking at how our candidates performed tonight to see how they turned out voters, what the enthusiasm is, and what their ground game looks like. We’re going to have to fight to win Virginia.”
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who made a stab at running for president himself, said this election will set the tone that the Republican Party will take moving forward.
“The leading candidates are going to have to demonstrate to the American people that they can govern,” Gilmore said. “Or maybe not. Maybe this year they’ll just have to demonstrate that they can be a voice for anger or resentment.”
Regardless of how they voted, many Virginians said it’s important for people to exercise their voice at the ballot box.
“Honestly, it’s just every vote counts,” VCU student Sean Barnett said at the Dominion Place polling station. “People think that because so many people are voting at one time that your vote is insignificant because it’s such a small percentage. If everyone’s thinking that, there’s a lot of people that aren’t getting their voice heard. It does seem insignificant, but it does count.”
At Tabernacle Baptist Church, Kyle, a doctor in her early 30s, said, “I don’t think you can complain unless you pick a choice.”
After casting his vote at Dominion Place, William Smith added, “It’s a privilege and a pleasure. I feel it’s my duty as an American.”
How Many Votes Each Candidate Got
Here are unofficial tallies from the State Board of Elections:
Democratic primary (with 2,550 of 2,557 precincts reporting)
Hillary Clinton: 501,880 votes (64.30%)
Bernie Sanders: 274,648 votes (35.19%)
Martin O’Malley: 4,004 votes (0.51%)
Republican primary (with 2,549 of 2,557 precincts reporting)
Donald Trump: 354,958 votes (34.81%)
Marco Rubio: 326,252 votes (31.99%)
Ted Cruz: 170,312 votes (16.70%)
John Kasich: 96,299 votes (9.44%)
Ben Carson: 59,881 votes (5.87%)
Jeb Bush: 3,576 votes (0.35%)
Rand Paul: 2,917 votes (0.29%)
Mike Huckabee: 1,478 votes (0.14%)
Chris Christie (Withdrawn): 1,091 votes (0.11%)
Carly Fiorina (Withdrawn): 897 votes (0.09%)
Jim Gilmore: 874 votes (0.09%)
Rick Santorum (Withdrawn): 718 votes (0.07%)
Lindsey Graham (Withdrawn): 455 votes (0.04%)