Dr. Stephen Farnsworth was not dismayed by the relative quiet in Central Virginia prior to Super Tuesday. He is a professor of political science and international affairs and founder of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, one of two colleges within a thirty-minute commute from Caroline County. He has been observing politics in Virginia for more than two decades.
“I think the Virginia outcome is very uncertain,” he said, a few days before Super Tuesday. “Candidates are looking at an electorate that is of two schools of mind. One is that they agree with their views. Another perspective is, ‘which candidate has the best chance of beating President Trump.’
“It is more calculated this year,” Farnsworth said. “It is wait and see.” He noted too that Virginia was seeing high levels of voter interest and participation, including high absentee voting and high interest on college campuses.
Five days before Super Tuesday, Farnsworth served as moderator of a forum on policy, and more than seventy voters—many of them still undecided at the time—gathered on a cold, windy night in the basement of the Fredericksburg Public Library to hear the views of four of the remaining democratic primary candidates at the time—on health care, climate change, and education. Well-prepared surrogates spoke on behalf of Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
A former Bowling Green town councilman, Matt Rowe, Senior Geographic Information Systems Analyst for rapidly growing Stafford County, represented Buttigieg. Rowe said he got on the former Indiana mayor’s bandwagon about eight months ago because of Buttigieg’s “realistic” approach to solving many of the problems that face the country. Rowe heard Buttigieg speak at the 2019 Blue Commonwealth Gala, an annual fundraiser, and was hooked. “He is an amazing orator and has a great read for where we are as a country.”
Other speakers at the Fredericksburg forum were equally well informed and passionate about their candidates. Dr. Jay Brock, a past president of the Fredericksburg Area Medical Society, graduated from McGill University in Montreal and began his medical practice in Canada under a single payer health system. He spoke on behalf of Senator Sanders, likening the American healthcare system to the casinos of Las Vegas. “Like gambling, the system is set up so the house always wins and the house is the healthcare companies. It’s wasteful. Who would even want to keep that system?” Brock asked. Moderate plans just perpetuate the waste, he said. “Only Bernie’s plan eliminates the health care industry and is truly affordable.”
Senator Warren was represented by Johanna Guzman, a former Fulbright Public Policy Fellow and visiting researcher at Oxford University, who has degrees in Biophysics and Microbiology. “Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are used to protect the healthcare system. Why would anyone want to perpetuate a system that doesn’t put us first?” she asked the audience. At the present time, “Healthcare isn’t considered a right, it is considered a business. Elizabeth Warren has a plan to change that. She has a plan!”
Vice President Biden was represented by Henry Thomassen, a resident of nearby Stafford County and a retired Exxon-Mobil executive, who called himself “a proud Democrat for over twenty-five years with a strong record of community activism.” Thomassen said that Biden’s plan for healthcare, like all of the contenders, “will increase taxes. But not as much. It is more modest.”
Many Virginia Democrats had to revise their thinking on election eve, following announcements that Steyer, Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar were all abandoning their campaigns. I asked Rowe where that left him, and his answer was, perhaps, telling.
“With Pete dropping out, I have immediately switched to Joe Biden. I think that’s what Pete wanted us to do,” said Rowe, who added that he would be switching gears and preparing for the Democratic Convention for the 1st Congressional District of Virginia.
When Super Tuesday finally arrived, voting lifted the fog.
Caroline County gave Joe Biden a resounding victory, and 64 percent of the votes. Bernie Sanders trailed with 23.6 percent, followed by Mike Bloomberg at 8.17 percent and Elizabeth Warren 5.62 percent. Biden’s margin in Caroline was much larger than statewide, where he was victorious nonetheless with 53.3 percent of the vote.
Perhaps more significant than the percentages was the voter turnout on a windy, overcast primary election day. There were 3,952 Caroline County residents voting this year compared to 2,561 in the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary. Direct comparisons are problematic because there was no Republican primary this year; Republicans and Independents were eligible to vote in the Democratic Primary, and the number of registered voters is higher this year.
Nonetheless, this was encouraging news for the Caroline County Democratic Chairman, Floyd Thomas. “That’s great,” he said. “It will take a while to see how many of those were first time voters and how many didn’t vote in 2016,” he added.
Matt Rowe, the Democratic Chairman for the 1st Congressional District, was also cheered. Having backed Buttigieg until he dropped out, Rowe spent the final hours of the campaign trying to steer Buttigieg and Klobuchar supporters to Biden. “It certainly helped when Pete endorsed Joe. That sealed it,” he said, after the polls closed.
How all of this affects the Virginia Congressional primary in June, and then the big one, the Presidential Election in November, remains to be seen.