Exploring Virginia before Super Tuesday

  • Cadet Tyler Long of the Fishburne Military Academy, one of the country’s oldest military schools located in Waynesboro, Va.  Long is 17 years old and will vote in the upcoming election. He believes the most important thing is “the US budget. How we’re going to decide how to spend the money. We need to help small business.”
  • Burnie Powers at the First Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro, Va. “I think the issues are taxes … and foreign policy with all the terrorism going on.”
  • Congregants at Union Baptist Church in Waynesboro, Va. greet each other during services.
  • A church west of Dixie, Va.
  • Macy Coffey in Lexington, Va. “I would like Trump out of the race and some dignity brought back to the race.”
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • An abandoned farm house on the Delmarva Peninsula. 
  • A monument to General Robert E. Lee, American commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia above his grave in Lexington, Va.
  • The tomb of American Civil War Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson in Lexington, Va.
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • Brick chips for sale on the road to Salem, Va.
  • Cameron Eutermarks in Fort Lewis, Va. “Guns is the number one thing. I support the Second Amendment. The more good people with guns, the worse it is for the bad people with guns.”
  • Marcus Preston from Salem, Va.  ”Justice is very important with all the police brutality going on. Justice and equality for all.”
  • The Dixieland gas station seen through a torn American flag in New Church, Va. near the Maryland border.
  • Dixieland Gas Station in New Church, Va.
  • Jacob Chandler, a clerk at the Dixieland gas station in New Church, Va. says, “Immigration. I would like to see a more conservative candidate who would deal with the problem.”
  • The Peace Token Cigarettes store on the Delmarva Peninsula.
  • Mama Girl, a folk artist who lives in Painter, VA, “I have had a vision and the vision told me that a beautiful women will live in the White House.  And we all know who that’s going to be.”
  • A fireworks store on the Delmarva Peninsula.
  • Bill Stephany of Virginia Beach, Va. “Listen to the grassroots. I’m tired of the political games. I don’t believe any of them.”
  • Michael Wigginton, student at Regents University in Virginia Beach, Va. “The Constitution. I don’t like how the executive branch isn’t respecting the Constitution.”
  • Adam Dibble, an army veteran from Norfolk, Va. runs every day for the Virginia chapter of Honor and Remember. “I’d like to see something done to make our economy strong. I’d like our allies overseas to take on more of the burden so we can concentrate on our own country”.
  • James Lewis of Lewis Barber Shop in Norfolk, Va. "Keep the country safe from terrorism.  From Isis. We need to keep gas prices down and rebuild our country".
  • Connor Carew, student at Liberty University in Lynchburg Va. "We need term limits. People who are in congress for 30 years do not care about me, they just care about filling their pockets.  We need true service. If you truly think any politician cares about you I have a great beachfront property to sell you".
  • Robert Marcus, owner of Bob’s Gun Shop in Norfolk, Va. “Honesty. I don’t feel our elected officials are being honest with us. I would like the media to hold our elected officials to a higher scrutiny.”
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • A tourist takes a picture of historical reenactors at the Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum showing the experience of America’s first permanent English colony and the story of 17th-century Virginia.
  • A historical reenactor at the Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum showing the experience of America’s first permanent English colony and the story of 17th-century Virginia.
  • Historical reenactor Lynn Powell in the Powhatan Village at the Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum lives in Williamsburg, Va. She says, "Nothing. I'm not into politics."
  • A tchotchke shop at the Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum showing the experience of America’s first permanent English colony and the story of 17th-century Virginia.
  • A tchotchke shop at the Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum showing the experience of America’s first permanent English colony and the story of 17th-century Virginia.
  • A “Trespassers Will Be Shot” sign near Jamestown, Va.
  • Members of the Princess Anne Hunt in Sherwood Forrest, Va. having refreshments. The fox hunting club was founded in 1927 and membership is by invitation only.
  • Members of the Princess Anne Hunt in Sherwood Forrest, Va. enjoying refreshments. The fox hunting club was founded in 1927 and membership is by invitation only. Jim Daniels, who lives in Chesterfield, says ” There are two issues: terrorism and the economy. We need to deal with the long term economy and end terrorism”.
  • A gallery storefront window in Richmond, Va. showing busts of Presidents Kennedy and Obama.
  • J. Avery Collins, a graduate student at VCU, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, says, “Health Care. I don’t have it. I never had. I can’t afford to pay $300 for it. It needs to be affordable for everyone”.
  • Andre Jones and Sarah James, classmates at Virginia Union University in Richmond. Jones says, “Income inequality. I like to see them tax people who are getting away with paying little taxes and make them pay their fair share.” James feels it’s “Race. Because it’s become such an issue. The candidates seem to be either for white people or for black people. They need to be for all people”.
  • Haley Oettinger, a forensic scientist in Richmond, Va. believes "access to education. It has to be fair to everyone so everyone has a equal chance to achieve in this country".
  • A horse on a farm east of Dixie, Va.
  • Jon Salotti (wearing the NRA cap) and Hank Penny at the Goldmine Huntclub. Salotti says, "Our foreign involvement.  We have issues at home that we need to take care of not always doing things for other countries and not dealing with what needs to get done here."  Penny says,  "I'm a plumber, I work for living. We need to make things here.  My cap it's made in Bangladesh.  Why can't they make hats here. They use too".
  • Burnie Powers at the First Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro, Va. " I think the issues are taxes...and foreign policy with all the terrorism going on".
  • Members of the choir at the First Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro, Va.
  • Mark Henderson of Waynesboro, Va. "Very simple we need a real candidate. I don't want sound bites.  I want transparency in the candidate but I don't expect perfection".
  • Jack Clements of Rockbridge County, Va. "There ain't going to be one man that can change anything.  The mess the last few have put us in, no one man is going to get us out".
  • The Mountaintop Mission Church in Christiansburg, Va.
  • Gwen Rose of Salem, Va. "We need a president that will build up the economy.  I'm 58 and I have to work two jobs just to keep my head above water".
  • Former US Marine John Paul Casey, a Vietnam veteran says, "we have to support vets. The V.A. has taken care of me, given me this wheelchair.  The V.A. is the best thing for me".
  • Crime Times, a crime blotter newspaper in a convenience store in Salem, Va.
  • Qunicy Thompson, a student at Liberty University, a private university in Lynchburg, Va. Says, “We need a better America. Foreign policy is very important, we need a candidate that goes after our enemies and protects America”.

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From the suburbs around D.C. and Arlington with their urban and liberal counterparts, to the evangelical south, Virginia is a place of variety, a seat of diversity and a bastion of American political history. With its wide social, economic, geographic and religious spread, Virginia is fairly emblematic of the country as a whole — and it’s one of 13 states (and one territory) that participates in Super Tuesday, the most significant day of the 2016 primary season.

Candidates from both parties — Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Republicans Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ben Carson  hope that Virginians give them a win. For some GOP contenders, a Super Tuesday boost is vital to the reality of their campaigns. But what do Virginians want?

Award-winning photographer Mark Peterson started from the Delmarva Peninsula, where the state begins, crossed the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk, then went on to Williamsburg and the capital of Richmond. He traveled along the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway, then down to Leesburg and the rural areas around Blacksburg, intent on covering the city, the country, the conservative, the liberal. Peterson asked the people he talked to a single question: “What is the one thing in this election that is most important to you?”

Here’s what he discovered.

These photographs were shot on assignment by Mark Peterson for MSNBC Photography as part of his on-going body of work “Political Theater” which examines the landscape of the American political system.

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