NBC projects Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has won the Virginia primary, where Ron Paul was his only competition on the ballot.
With 99 percent of the vote in, Romney had 59 percent. Forty-six delegates were at stake in the commonwealth.
Romney won Virginia with a strong showing among party loyalists, conservatives, tea party supporters and voters who consider the ability to defeat President Barack Obama the most important quality in a candidate, the Associated Press reported. Preliminary results of an exit poll in Virginia showed that Paul fared well among moderates and independents, but it wasn't enough to overcome a front-runner who had the support of the state's GOP establishment, including McDonnell and U.S. House Minority leader Eric Cantor.
Turnout on Super Tuesday was painfully low likely because of the lack of candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich on the ballot, News4's Julie Carey reported. They failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot, so many commonwealth Republicans didn't bother going to the polls.
Gingrich, a Virginia resident, didn't vote in the primary Tuesday, but Gov. Bob McDonnell did cast his for Romney, whom he previously endorsed. McDonnell is considered a possible running mate for Romney.
According to Virginia state law, candidates seeking to be included on the primary ballot were required to get the signatures of at least 10,000 registered voters, with 400 from each of the state’s congressional districts. The problem the candidates faced was the provision that only Virginia residents can collect the required signatures, not campaign workers from out of state.
Former candidate Rick Perry sought a court order to be included on the ballot and was joined by Santorum, Gingrich and Jon Huntsman. Campaign officials for the candidates left off the ballot testified that they likely would have succeeded had they been able to have out-of-state supporters circulate petitions.
U.S. District Court Judge John Gibney indicated the residency requirement likely is unconstitutional but should have been addressed by the candidates sooner. He said he didn't see how the 10,000-signature requirement was unconstitutional and ruled against the four candidates left off the ballot.
*Early AP exit poll results.
Virginia does not register voters by party, so the primary was open to all voters. More than six in 10 identified themselves as Republicans, and almost two-thirds of that group voted for Romney, the AP reported. Approximately three in 10 said they were independent or something else, and almost two-thirds of them voted for Paul.
The breakdown was similar among the almost two-thirds who labeled themselves conservatives. Romney got the support of more than six in 10 conservatives, while the vote was evenly split among the approximately one-third who considered themselves moderate or liberal.
Six in 10 voters said they support the tea party, and Romney got 60 percent of that vote. He received similar support among the slightly less than half who identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians.
Romney's strongest showing was among the approximately four in 10 voters who believe beating Obama is the most important quality. More than eight in 10 voters in that group voted for Romney. The second most important quality was strong moral character, cited by about a fifth of voters. Paul got the vote of two-thirds of that group.
Almost half of Virginia voters were strongly behind their candidate. Romney fared better among that group while Paul was strong among the 13 percent who voted for a candidate based on dislike of the opponent.
One-third of the voters said they would have voted for one of the candidates who was not on the ballot had they had the chance, with Santorum receiving slightly more support than Gingrich. Romney fared best among the Gingrich supporters, while the vote was about even among the Santorum backers.
A narrow majority of voters called the economy their top issue in choosing a candidate, and more than six in 10 voters from that group voted for Romney. Almost a third cited the federal budget deficit, and Romney received similar support among that group. Abortion and illegal immigration were each cited by less than 10 percent of voters. About half of the voters said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, and more than six in 10 of that group supported Romney.
Approximately seven in 10 voters said gas prices were an important consideration in their vote, and about two-thirds of them voted for Romney.
More than 90 percent were white, seven in 10 were 45 or older and nearly six in 10 were college graduates.
The preliminary exit poll of 1,038 Virginia Republican primary voters was conducted for AP by Edison Research in a random sample of 20 precincts statewide. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.