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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Old Dominion Political Scientists Discuss Presidential Nominating Contests

By Brendan O'Hallarn

A once-in-a-lifetime race for president attracted a curious capacity crowd to the Burgess Room of the Batten Arts and Letters Building, to hear Old Dominion University political scientists discuss the Republican and Democratic races hours before polls closed in Virginia on Super Tuesday.

With 13 states hosting primary or caucus contests, March 1 stood to define the nominating contests for both parties. Joking that this year's primary season "isn't interesting at all," Glen Sussman, professor of political science, introduced five of his colleagues, who discussed various aspects of the race.

In Super Tuesday results last night, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton consolidated their positions as favorites in their respective nominating races, each winning the Virginia Primary and several other contests.

Jonathan Leib, associate professor of political science, said the nature of this campaign has changed dramatically.

"The whole scale of campaigns has shifted, from meetings in coffee shops to a true national campaign," Leib said, noting that 49 percent of Democratic voters and 59 percent of Republican voters will have cast ballots by March 15. "Over the next two weeks, this race will come into a lot more focus."

Jesse Richman, associate professor of political science and organizer of the panel, noted the tremendous variability between states in how delegates are selected for the Democratic and Republican conventions.

"On the Republican side, it's really the Wild West," Richman said, noting that in each state, candidates are forced to factor delegate selection into their electoral strategy.

Joshua Zingher, assistant professor of political science, indicated that the 2016 presidential election could end up being the event with the most wagering worldwide, and that those bets are often better predictors of election outcomes than public opinion polling.

"Public opinion polling asks voters who they would like to see win. The betting market asks who they think is going to win," Zingher said. "Betting markets have always reflected those perceptions, even before scientific polling."

Shenita Brazelton, assistant professor of political science and an expert on race and culture in politics, addressed how minority voters could affect Super Tuesday voting. Confining her remarks largely to the Democratic race, Brazelton said the high proportion of black and Latino voters in some states have forced candidates to tailor their messages.

"For today's election, Hillary Clinton would appear to have a significant advantage with African American voters, and that's partly because she represents the best chance to win," Brazelton said. "Barack Obama didn't establish his big lead with African American voters in 2008 until after he won the Iowa caucuses. Voters had to believe he could win."

Wrapping up the panel, William Whitehurst, Kaufman Lecturer of Public Affairs and a former U.S. member of Congress, lamented the turn that politics has taken in this campaign.

"If someone had told me a year ago that Donald Trump would be leading the Republican race, I would think something was in the water," Whitehurst said. Saying he was backing Republican John Kasich as the only viable candidate, Whitehurst added that most candidates leading the nominating contests "are not worthy of people seeking the office."

He added that as a former member of Congress, he feels free to be outspoken.

"One of the nice things about being a former Congressman is nobody tells me what I can and can't do. Nobody listens to me, but I can say what I want."