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As Fairfax County kicks off early voting, local party officials weigh in on presidential primary

Voters fill out their ballots for the 2023 Democratic primary at Bailey’s Community Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Updated at 10:15 a.m. on 1/19/2024With the county government closed due to snow, the start of early voting has been delayed to 9 a.m.-5 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday), the Fairfax County Office of Elections announced.

Earlier: Early voting for the 2024 presidential primary election is set to begin tomorrow (Friday) Saturday (Jan. 20) in Fairfax County, with local party officials and campaign strategists projecting varied voter turnout.

While the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) anticipates a lower turnout among its members, at least one local Republican strategist expects a strong showing from Republican voters, particularly in support of former president and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump remains far and away the favorite candidate of Virginia Republicans, including Northern Virginia Republicans, as far as I can tell,” said Nathan Brinkman, founder of the political consulting firm Brinkman Media, whose prior clients include the Fairfax County Republican Committee, as well as other local candidates.

Starting this Friday, Jan. 19 next week, early voting will be available on weekdays at three key locations — the Fairfax, Mount Vernon, and North County government centers, according to the county’s election office.

Voters can cast their ballots at the Fairfax County Government Center from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while the Mount Vernon and North County centers will welcome voters from 1-7 p.m. There is also a 24-hour ballot drop-off box available outside the Fairfax County Government Center.

An additional 13 early voting sites are set to open starting Saturday, Feb. 24, from 1-7 p.m. Early voting will be offered on two Saturdays, including Feb. 24 and March 2, at all sites.

  • Burke Centre Library
  • Centreville Regional Library
  • Franconia Governmental Center
  • Great Falls Library
  • Herndon-Fortnightly Library
  • Jim Scott Community Center
  • Lorton Community Center
  • Mason Governmental Center
  • McLean Governmental Center
  • Sully Governmental Center
  • Thomas Jefferson Library
  • Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library
  • West Springfield Governmental Center

Who’s on the ballot

As of today (Jan. 18), Virginia has the following Republican and Democratic presidential candidates on the ballot:

  • Chris Christie (R)
  • Ryan Binkley (R)
  • Vivek Ramaswamy (R)
  • Donald J. Trump (R)
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)
  • Nikki Haley (R)
  • President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D)
  • Marianne Williamson (D)
  • U.S. Rep. Dean Benson Phillips (D)

(Note: Republicans Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy have suspended their respective campaigns, but neither candidate has officially withdrawn from the race in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.)

Trump viewed as Republican frontrunner

Although Virginia’s presidential primaries won’t officially take place until March 5, Republicans are already gearing up for Trump as the likely party nominee.

Earlier this week, Trump won a decisive victory in Iowa, winning 51% of the vote while his chief GOP rivals, DeSantis and Haley, combined for 40%. Nevertheless, DeSantis and Haley are actively campaigning for New Hampshire’s upcoming Republican primary on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

If DeSantis and Haley get as far as Super Tuesday in March, they might find some favor with moderate Republicans in Northern Virginia, says Brinkman. But he argues it won’t be enough to challenge the deep-rooted loyalty Trump enjoys among his core supporters.

“To be fair, some Republican voters are ready to move on from Trump for a variety of reasons. And I suspect there’s a higher concentration of them inside the D.C. Beltway than elsewhere in the 50 states,” Brinkman said. “However, Republicans, even here in Northern Virginia, seem to be overwhelmingly loyal to the former president.”

Trump is currently leading Republican candidates in various national polls and one by Roanoke College specifically focused on Virginia. However, at least one survey by American Research Group Inc. shows that in New Hampshire, Haley is tied with Trump.

Trump’s presidential campaign has persisted despite a series of legal challenges, including a defamation case and an upcoming trial for alleged election interference that’s set for March 4 but may face delays. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on whether Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021 could disqualify him from appearing on future ballots.

Spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Elections Andrew Gaines told FFXnow the agency “does not comment on pending litigation,” and voters will be notified if a candidate has officially withdrawn from the race.

Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit aiming to remove Trump from the Virginia primary ballot after the Colorado Supreme Court and the Maine secretary of state decided to exclude the former president from their respective state ballots. However, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia John Fishwick told 10 News he believes it’s ‘highly unlikely’ Trump will be disqualified in Virginia.

For those wondering whether the court battles may hinder Trump’s chance at becoming the GOP nominee, Brinkman posits they’ve actually had the opposite effect.

“The majority of Republicans seem to be rallying around the former president because they view those legal machinations in addition to the mainstream media, or big tech attempts to effectively cancel the former president as anti-democratic and fundamentally unfair,” Brinkman said. “And so I believe we are seeing a rebellion against those efforts.”

Democrats anticipate quiet primary

On the Democratic side, President Joe Biden is the presumed frontrunner, even though his approval ratings dipped down to 33% last week. There are also questions about whether Democrats may be deterred from showing up at the polls this year.

FCDC Executive Director Dominic Thompson predicts the Virginia primary may be “slower” this year for Democrats, but he argues voters, especially in Fairfax County, are energized by issues such as abortion rights, good governance and “the need for democracy.”

“We are definitely really confident about turnout in the general election,” he said. “Our county party has made great strides and created a structure that is able to mobilize voters and get them out.”

Voter turnout, particularly among Democrats, increased slightly in the 2020 presidential primaries compared to 2016, but Thompson suggests that the trend may not continue this time.

“If we had to predict, I think it’s gonna be a pretty sleepy primary for the presidential race,” he said, attributing the potential downturn to a lack of awareness about the ongoing primary rather apathy toward the candidates themselves.

“I actually remember talking to people on our committee, there were several members…who didn’t even realize that there was a primary,” Thompson said. “They didn’t realize anyone else had qualified for the ballot.”

Brinkman believes abortion rights won’t play as big of a role in the presidential general election this year, as it’s “arguably a state issue now.”

But Thompson says he believes that would be a “big miscalculation” for Republicans.

“One conversation that’s been taking place in these Republican primary debates, is the conversation of abortion and what we should be doing at a federal level,” Thompson said. “And you have several people running on that side who talk about how they want to implement a national ban or they want to implement a six-week ban or other extreme positions.”

Last November, Democrats took back control of both chambers of the Virginia legislature, a victory that party members saw as a repudiation of Republican attempts to restrict abortion. Though introduced as a priority, Senate Democrats voted this week to postpone consideration of a proposal to enshrine the right to reproductive freedom in the state constitution to 2025.

Following this year’s presidential primaries, turning out voters on issues like abortion, especially in Democrat strongholds like Fairfax, for the general election will be pivotal, Thompson says.

“You can’t just be happy that you won 60% of the vote of Fairfax County,” he said. “You have to make sure that you’ve won 60% of the vote but you also turned down a lot of Democratic voters to counteract those votes that you’re going to get down in the southern part of the state from Republicans.”

Brinkman, though, argues that the Republican nominee will have a leg up on Biden come November.

“The current president’s performance on national security, foreign policy, and, I suspect, especially the economy and inflation will dominate voters’ minds, but we’ll see,” Brinkman said.

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Ron DeSantis’s name and clarify that the Fairfax County Republican Committee is a past client of Nathan Brinkman’s firm, not a current one.

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