Virginians voting in Super Tuesday primary

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – One day, 10 states, more than 400 delegates at stake, but the momentum from a big day could mean much more.

The potential rewards are enormous. With clear victories in key battleground states, Mitt Romney can effectively silence his critics and build a commanding lead in the Republican nomination for president. With just a few key losses, questions would mount about his ability to carry key states, like Virginia in the general election against President Obama.

The polls in Virginia are now open, and will be until 7 p.m. tonight. But the competition in the Commonwealth is limited to just Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, the only candidates who submitted enough valid signatures to the State Board of Elections. Write-ins are not allowed.

Virginia’s primary is not expected to be close, although few pollsters have been looking at the race here since Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were not allowed on the ballot.

A limited field in Virginia could end up hurting the Republican nominee’s chances in the November election, and not just by failing to raise interest and mobilize voters in the Commonwealth.

“If they had a hotly contested primary here in Virginia, we would have seen all of the candidates here for much of last week. They all would have contested because we have so many delegates” says CBS 6 political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth.

“At the end of the day the Republican party would have had a list of all the people who voted in this primary, they would have been able to go back and raise money with all of those people who voted in the primary and general election. So in an odd way the Republican Party in Virginia didn’t capitalize on the possibilities of this primary as well as they might have.”

Republican leaders in Virginia backed off a controversial plan to try to force voters in the primary to pledge support to the eventual GOP nominee. Virginia has an open primary – any registered voter can participate.

Although turnout is expected to be low, voters taking part are to go to their normal voting precincts.

Most political analysts are focusing Super Tuesday attention on Ohio and Tennessee: states that have a full slate of candidates and are key to the Republicans’ hopes of unseating President Obama in November. Ohio is too close to call between Romney and Santorum. Tennessee appears to be in Santorum’s camp, but his lead may be slipping with Gingrich making a run for voters according to several recent polls.

Gingrich is expected to win in Georgia, another Super Tuesday state. He bypassed several primaries in February to focus on states voting today. A loss in Tennessee could seriously hurt his argument that he can build on a bloc of southern votes and win the nomination.

Ron Paul expects to do well in the Super Tuesday states holding caucuses, especially Idaho. The Texas congressman has not won a state yet.

No matter what happens on Super Tuesday the race will likely continue. Although 419 delegates are at stake, it will take 1,144 to clinch the nomination and no candidate is close to that number. Romney’s message is that a Super Tuesday sweep could make him the inevitable candidate.

CBS 6 will have full coverage of the Super Tuesday contests. Look for live updates throughout the day, and up-to-the-minute coverage on WTVR.com.

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