- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won their party’s respective presidential primaries Tuesday in Virginia, a swing state likely to play a key role in November’s general election.

Clinton easily defeated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary with overwhelming support from African-Americans, women, and older voters, exit polls show.

Trump narrowly defeated Marco Rubio in a tight Republican race, thanks in large part to strong support from Virginia’s evangelical, rural, lower-income and less educated voters, according to the exit polls.

With the win, Clinton and Trump add to a recent string of wins in early primaries, strengthening their positions as front-runners.

Troy Waller, who cast his vote for Trump in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, said he likes that Trump is an outsider.

“He’s got a different way of looking at things, and he’s an independent-thinking guy,” Walker said. “He’s not going to be influenced by anyone else.”

But Rubio’s supporters believe even a strong second place in Virginia may be able to help him make his case moving forward.

The limited polling available in the weeks leading up to the primary had shown that Virginia Republicans favored Trump over Rubio by a sizeable amount.

Rubio focused heavily on Virginia in the days leading up to the contest. He held four rallies across the state on Sunday, when his increasingly intense attacks on Trump were on display. And a super PAC supporting him spent heavily in the final days on TV ads.

James Hadland, a Chesterfield County resident who voted for Rubio, said he was encouraged that the Florida senator has taken a more aggressive tone against Trump in recent days. “He’s really kind of stepped up to the plate.”

Even some Democrats were voting in the Republican primary with an aim to stop Trump. Virginia holds open primaries, in which registered voters can choose to vote in either primary.

Nicole Freed, a disabled 32-year-old Army veteran who served in Iraq, said she cast her primary ballot for Republican Marco Rubio with the simple aim of knocking Donald Trump off the Republican ballot in November.

“I can’t let Trump win,” said Freed, who said she’s likely to vote for Clinton in the general election.

Turnout was high across the state, causing long lines in some areas, but state election officials said they were unaware of any major problems. In Arlington County, election officials had to photocopy Republican ballots to meet “unprecedented” GOP demand, said Linda Lindberg, the county’s director of elections.

As a nod to Virginia’s cachet as a diverse state that will help decide the general election, every candidate made at least one stop here in the days before the primary.

Clinton focused heavily on shoring up support from African-American voters. She also relied on high-profile surrogates to stump for her, including her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her longtime friend Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“Her husband was pretty good, so I want to give her a chance,” said Adrian Harris, a 58-year-old Richmond resident. The retired mechanic said he feared a Trump victory in November would send the country into “turmoil.”


AP writers Steven Szkotak and Larry O’Dell in Richmond, and Matthew Barakat in northern Virginia contributed to this report.

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