If Trump has any home territory in Virginia, it’s Loudoun County.
He spent millions renovating 800 acres in Sterling to open two championship courses at Trump National Golf Club. He visited the county last summer to unveil his newest course on the property, and in a short speech he described it as a gift for local residents, golfers and non-golfers alike.
But that wasn’t enough to win the support of most Loudoun voters this week.
While Republicans statewide joined the unforeseen national wave of support for TV personality and businessman Donald Trump, Loudouners did their part to buck that enthusiasm and instead favored Marco Rubio for the GOP ticket.
Rubio, who made a campaign stop in Purcellville Sunday, pulled in 40.59 percent of the GOP vote in Loudoun and 31.5 percent at the state level. He won 88 of the county’s 94 precincts, including the precinct in which the Trump National Golf Club sits.
Trump won Virginia with 35.2 percent of the vote, but trailed in Loudoun with 27.93 percent. Ted Cruz held 17 percent of voters’ support in Loudoun, John Kasich took 9.2 percent and Ben Carson tallied 6 percent.
Loudoun Democrats fell in line with the rest of Virginia to support Hillary Clinton. She walked away with 58.53 percent of the local vote and 64.7 percent of the vote statewide. Sanders fell short, winning the support of 40.81 percent of Loudoun Democrats and 34.8 percent of Virginia Democrats.
Thirty-nine percent, or 86,464 people, of the county’s registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, higher than any primary election in recent history. The February 2008 presidential primary saw a 31.4 percent turnout.
Trump’s the Word
Many at the polls Tuesday said their decision to cast a ballot was fueled by the most repeated five-letter word of the day: Trump.
The fear that the outspoken conservative could very well keep the momentum to win the GOP nomination for president was enough to draw Jennifer Cheplick out of her house to vote. The Leesburg resident said she doesn’t always vote in primary elections, but she did not want to sit on the sidelines for this one.
“I came out to vote against Trump,” she said. Specifically, she checked the box next to Rubio’s name. “I would do just about anything to vote against that bigot.”
Cheplick’s daughter attended a Trump campaign rally at Radford University Monday. “She said it was a big circus. But she wanted to go; she wanted to be a part of history.”
Jennifer Schneider, of Ashburn, sounded just as eager to cast a vote for a Republican candidate other than Trump. She supported Gov. John Kasich. “I think he’s done a great job in Ohio,” she said. “I’m looking for a fiscal conservative—and I don’t want Donald Trump to win.”
Leesburg businessman Donald Devine is a Trump supporter. As to why, Devine said, “Look at it this way—it’s a multiple choice test, and I think he’s the right answer.” He described himself as a pragmatist and moderate, and he considers Trump a moderate as well. “I think we need a moderate to win the election.”
Hillary the ‘Best Choice’
It was the chance to back Sanders that brought 24-year-old Laura Arellano out to vote in Leesburg. She sees Sanders as someone who sympathizes with the challenges of the middle class and new Americans.
“I’m Mexican-American, so I definitely wanted to support someone who supports Latinos,” she said, noting Trump’s negative comments toward Mexican immigrants. “I’m really surprised that Trump has supporters. Honestly, it’s a little scary because everything he says is extreme.”
A voter in Lansdowne who chose not to give her name said she was eager to back Clinton. “I think she’s the best choice to beat whichever guy comes out of the clown car,” she said. “I know of Hillary, I actually met Hillary. I think she knows what she’s doing. I think she actually understands the limitations of what that office can accomplish.”
She said she would still vote for Sanders in a general election.
Fernando “Marty” Martinez, Leesburg councilman and chairman of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, would not say which candidate he supported. But he did say he was surprised at Clinton’s big win over Sanders.
“I was expecting Bernie to have a better showing. But you know, it’s just the way it goes,” he said, adding that the committee will support the party’s nominee. “One of the things I can say about our two candidates, even though they had some pointed discussions, it never turned into the brawl that some other debates did, and I’m really proud of both of them for that.”
Loudoun County has a history of being an accurate bellwether in presidential races, with just enough moderate and independent voters to tip the political scales toward the ultimate winning candidate. In the one previous primary where the statewide results differed from Loudoun’s, the county’s voters were in step with national voters. In 1988, Virginia’s primary voters strongly backed Jessie Jackson’s presidential bid. However, Loudoun was one of 17 counties to back the eventual party nominee Michael Dukakis, who placed third among Virginia voters.
1988 has significance on the national political scene as well. It is the last time the candidates who came out on top on Super Tuesday did not ultimately win their parties’ nominations. That could happen again this year. After all, this election cycle has been anything but typical.
Reporters Renss Greene and Margaret Morton contributed to this story.