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The race to capture Virginia's 13 electoral votes

Virginia’s importance as a swing state, University student efforts in the election

As a swing state, Virginia has been a focal point throughout the entire 2016 presidential process. Virginia has voted Republican in every election between 1968 and 2004, only to switch and vote Democratic in 2008 and 2012. That change came when the President Barack Obama was up for election — beating both the 2008 Republican candidate John McCain and the 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The Democratic Party won those races by 52.6 percent to 46.3 percent in 2008 and 51.2 percent to 47.3 percent in 2012.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have continued to fight for the state of Virginia, despite experts saying it is likely to be a Democratic win. A RealClearPolitics average predicts Clinton will pull ahead by 5.2 percent in the Virginia race.

However, despite predictions of a Democratic win, the battle for the Commonwealth — with its 13 electoral votes — has been a long, bumpy road for the candidates in terms of their policies, the challengers they have faced and the fight for the general election.

Policies of interest

The candidates’ policies have been a key issue during discussions of who would be better to lead the country for the next four years. Some key policies that have consumed this election — immigration, trade and affordable college education — are important to both the nation and Charlottesville.

One of the reasons Virginia is not only a swing state but also a Clinton-leaning state is due to the high number of immigrants, Miller Center Director William Antholis said.

“It turns out Hispanics are not an enormous number, but they are growing, but non-Hispanic immigrants, particularly Asians and immigrants from South Asia and Middle East, are quite high,” Antholis said. “That makes a difference in the state.”

Antholis said Virginia’s position on global trade and the development of international partnerships has also made the state less inclined to vote for a Trump presidency.

“This is not a state that responds well to Trump’s trade protectionist rhetoric, because of our court and our high tech economy, global trade tends to be more popular in Virginia than shutting down trade,” Antholis said.

Both candidates have acknowledged and proposed their own comprehensive plans for how student debt should be handled by the national government.

Adam Kimelman, College Republicans vice chair of campaigns and second-year College student, said student debt has been an important topic for students in this election.

“Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both address this issue,” Kimelman said. “Trump specifically would work with universities to help forgive student debt, while Clinton seems to focus more on a government-sided approach.”

The election’s rhetoric has also been a topic of conversation on Grounds and throughout Charlottesville. College students are asking how they want our country to be perceived and how the new president will affect this.

University Democrats President Sam Tobin, a fourth-year College student, said each vote reflects a choice for the future of the country.

“Do we want one that is inclusive and making sure that everyone feels welcome, everyone feels safe, everyone feels important? It is very important to U.Va. students with the recent hate speech incidences and how it is very closely linked to Donald Trump,” he said.

No matter who becomes president or what policies they have promised, some experts believe both candidates will find difficulty passing their agendas. This rises from the uncertainty of how down-ballot candidates will perform in this election.

Challenges from the primary to the general election

With an excess of candidates on both sides during this election, candidacy conversations changed day to day from the primaries until each party’s convention.

“All three — [John] Kasich, [Bernie] Sanders and [Gary] Johnson — have some appeal in [Virginia] communities, obviously not enough to win the primary, but enough to make a difference in how primaries were conducted,” Antholis said.

Antholis said it will be important for candidates to transfer support from the primaries to the general election.

“In the general election, their supporters end up being quite important to the outcome of the general — can Hillary turn out a combo of students that voted for Sanders and some of the more liberal professionals and U.Va. faculty that might have supported Sanders?” Antholis said.

The primaries posed a particular challenge to both candidates.

“In the primary, Bernie Sanders did pose a challenge to Mrs. Clinton, but she did win the primary with 64.3 percent of the vote,” Politics lecturer Carah Ong-Whaley said. “With a larger field of candidates, Donald Trump won the Republican primary with just 34.7 percent of vote, but Marco Rubio, the ‘establishment favorite,’ came in second with 31.9 percent of the vote. Mr. Rubio bested Mr. Trump in Northern Virginia, Albemarle and Lynchburg, Richmond and surrounding areas, James and York.”

For Trump, the challenges have been about battling the establishment and those in the Republican Party who are uncomfortable with him being the nominee.

“He has run all along as an outsider candidate, battling the so-called establishment in Washington and including in his own party,” Ong-Whaley said.

For Clinton, the Sanders campaign had a more concrete impact on shaping her platform and challenging her through the entire election cycle, Ong-Whaley said.

“As a result of Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign, Mrs. Clinton has moved to the left on some issues, especially things like the environment, college debt and the minimum wage,” Ong-Whaley said. “As a result of both Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders, she’s also changed positions, at least publicly, on trade. But she has been consistently hawkish on foreign policy and national security issues.”

The third-party candidates — Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein — have been anything but obsolete in Virginia and Charlottesville. This has been furthered by a large enthusiasm for Johnson among younger voters.

“Young voters see [Trump] as particularly problematic, and young white voters aren’t particularly smitten with him either,” Geoffrey Skelley, University Center for Politics media relations coordinator, said.

Skelley said Johnson could potentially do well in Charlottesville.

“Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will probably do best with young voters,” Skelley said. “Johnson’s vote support has generally collapsed in the last month or so, but he might win a fare share in Charlottesville with voters who maybe don’t like Trump but are Republican-leaning.”

Despite challenges leading up to the general election, student-run political organizations have been trying to help their parties in full force.

“In the primaries, [University Democrats] does not endorse candidates, and we consider ourselves the wing of the Democratic Party at the University,” Tobin said. “We have representatives from each of the campaigns come to U.Va. to speak to the students. We also participated and helped people get rides to the polls on primary day.”

Student efforts to support the election

The general election started mid-to-late July, when both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention chose Trump and Clinton as their respective nominees. With the nominees established, groups on Grounds embarked on campaigns to get students to vote.

“For a while, we did nonpartisan things, such as registering people to vote by standing outside of Clemons, Alderman, Newcomb and so forth,” Tobin said.

Some of the University Democrats’ more partisan activities included endorsing Clinton and Virginia fifth district Democratic candidate Jane Dittmar, Tobin said.

“We officially released our endorsements of Hillary Clinton and Jane Dittmar and wanted to inform the community as to why they are the best candidates,” Tobin said. “We have been calling people and knocking on doors for both Hillary and Jane. We will continue to do this every day until the election."

College Republicans have had a different strategy. As a result of their recently revoked endorsement of Trump, they have primarily worked toward getting down-ballot Republicans elected, such as fifth district GOP candidate Tom Garrett.

“In the general election, we have had students get in touch with the Trump, Johnson and McMullin campaigns,” Kimelman said. “We have also been extremely active with Tom Garrett's campaign, and we will be making calls for various GOP Senators in close races through election day.”

Once the candidates were announced, later decisions impacted support for each candidate at the University, especially the selection of running mates. Clinton chose Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential nominee, which boosted her support in Virginia. Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, is the current governor of Indiana.

“Anecdotally, I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t like Trump, I don’t like Clinton, but I do like Tim Kaine,’ and recent polls have asked about his favorability,” Skelley said. “Pence actually has about the same favorability, which is interesting, but I do think the academic literature suggests [running mates are] worth a point or two, maybe even three. I expect it’s probably worth a point or two for Clinton, but of course it’s hard to nail down exactly.”

Toward the end of the election, news outlets had reported that Trump was largely pulling his campaign out of Virginia, which might create a barrier to winning the state. However, Ong-Whaley said this might not be the case.

“He is largely relying on the Republican Party organization for ground game, but that may not necessarily disadvantage him, as many have suggested,” Ong-Whaley said. “He has gotten substantial free media attention, and campaign supporters are out in full force canvassing and making calls.”

Preliminary polls have tightened in several key battlegrounds states, including Virginia. The Electoral College will play a key role in the race’s result, and both candidates have a chance at victory.

“I’m not going to predict an outcome,” Ong-Whaley said. “I think this is a close race, and there is a lot of uncertainty. I think the polls in Virginia have tightened, as have in other states. It is really going to come down to who turns out.”


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