Donald Trump held off a late Marco Rubio surge to win Virginia's presidential primary Tuesday 35 to 32 percent. Trump claimed 17 of the state's 49 convention delegates as well as bragging rights for winning a state most analysts say Republicans must carry in order to win the general election in November.
Voters turned out in record numbers for the Republicans. "We smashed our previous GOP record and the Democrats in 2008 for primary turnout,"
Republican Party of Virginia chairman John Whitbeck said in a statement. "With votes still being counted, we have surpassed 1,000,000 GOP voters."
Rubio barnstormed Virginia on Sunday, hammering Trump over his business dealings, policy proposals and temperament. The swing may have paid some benefits, as he carried the heavily suburban congressional districts outside Washington and Richmond. Rubio is projected to win 16 delegates.
Trump, however, won handily in the vote rich Hampton Roads area, the staunchly Republican Shenandoah Valley, and ran up his largest margins in southwest Virginia, home to the state's ailing coal industry.
In an interview with AMI Newswire Tuesday night, Trump's state director Corey Stewart said the candidate represents a breath of fresh air for the GOP.
"The party has become tired and dull. [Trump] is bringing a lot of energy to the race and the GOP," said Stewart, who is chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
Rubio backers spun the Virginia results as progress in a longer fight against Trump.
Delegate Tim Hugo, Rubio's state campaign chairman, told AMI Newswire the campaign was like that of George Washington during the Revolutionary War. "He lost a lot of battles along the way," Hugo said. "But he won in the end. And we think that's what Marco will do as we move into the winner-take-all states. like Florida and Ohio."
At a press conference Tuesday night in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump said: "I know it was a tough night for Marco Rubio." He added: "The Virginia win was a great win."
Virginia was less kind to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who finished in third place with just under 17 percent of the vote and who is projected to win eight delegates.
Cruz launched his presidential bid at Liberty University last year, but failed to carry the university's precinct Tuesday night. He also has the backing of former Virginia attorney general, and 2013 gubernatorial nominee, Ken Cuccinelli.
Some in Cruz's Virginia organization lay the blame for the senator's poor showing on the national campaign.
Beau Correll, who co-chairs Cruz's effort in northern Virginia's 10th Congressional District, issued a statement in which he said he was "personally disappointed that the national presidential campaign expended next to no money on resources whatsoever in our Commonwealth. No personnel, TV, or materials. It was so barren, we even had to purchase or hunt down our own yard signs from neighboring states."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who finished fourth in Virginia with 9.4 percent of the vote and
will likely earn five delegates, had also campaigned hard, but could not break through.
Bret Coulson, his Virginia state director, said in an interview with AMI Newswire that Kasich "had a great ground operation" in the state and exceeded expectations.
Stewart said someone such as Kasich could become part of the Trump ticket, if the New Yorker wins the GOP nomination. "I see a lot of people who are Trump and Kasich supporters in Virginia," he said. "There are some common themes between the campaigns. The Medicaid expansion Kasich did was bad but, otherwise, he's got a lot to recommend him."
Could Kasich be Trump's running mate? Stewart was non-committal. "With the exception of a couple of people," who have run for the GOP nomination this year, he said, "there are a lot of good choices for a potential running mate.
"But definitely not [South Carolina Senator] Lindsey Graham."