Virginia might well fulfill its expected role as a swing state in the 2012 presidential race, but strict ballot rules have largely reduced the commonwealth to under-card status on Super Tuesday when 10 states hold primaries or caucuses.
A federal judge in January blocked a challenge from then-candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry in his last-minute bid to remedy the situation.
Still, 49 delegates are up for grabs in the state, three of which are unbound. Thirty-three delegates go to the winning candidate in each of the state’s 11 congressional districts, with 13 going to the winner of the overall primary.
Virginia claims its swing-state status in part because President Obama’s narrow victory there in 2008 marked the first time in 44 years a Democratic presidential candidate won the state. And a recent Quinnipiac University poll shows Mr. Obama for the first time this year ahead of all potential GOP rivals.
That Mr. Romney will face only Mr. Paul on Tuesday gives a big edge to the former Massachusetts governor, and not just because voters cannot cast ballots for Mr. Santorum, his closest rival at the moment.
Under Virginia’s distribution rules, some delegates are awarded proportionally if candidates do not amass more than 50 percent of the vote.
According to the Roanoke College poll, adding the two remaining candidates into the mix would give Mr. Romney just 31 percent of the vote, compared to 12 percent for Mr. Paul, 27 percent for Mr. Santorum and 13 percent for Mr. Gingrich, who has a home in Northern Virginia.
Mr. Romney has strong GOP support in Virginia, including Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, his state campaign chairman. He also has recent endorsement of former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, known from his days in Congress as a moderate Republican.
The anticipated noncompetitive race Tuesday has irked political advocates and supporters of other candidates. Citizens for the Republic, a conservative group that had pushed for more candidates to be allowed on the primary ballot, is urging Virginians to vote for Mr. Paul.
“Election officials in the Old Dominion have decided that not every Republican will be on the ballot and instead have chosen to offer a ‘choice’ between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul,” said Executive Vice President Bill Pascoe. “Virginia Republicans and conservatives know that Mitt Romney is no conservative. He is a big government Republican who has taken both sides of nearly every issue.”
The expected walkover for Mr. Romney also has allowed him to direct his attention elsewhere and avoid potential questions from Virginia voters about the high-profile social issues being weighed by the General Assembly, such as abortion and whether life begins at conception.
Virginia is an open primary state, and voters do not register by party. Write-in candidates, however, are not allowed.