The Humble American Heartland: Key to Senate Control?

Many people focus on the South when talking about Senate control in the November 4, 2014, elections. Republican campaigns and PACs have spent tens of millions of dollars on Senate races in the South: Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina. However, it is the American Heartland, or Midwest, region that may be key to the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with 5 key elections in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and South Dakota (shown in brown and green on the map).

The American Heartland looms large and has varying extents, depending on the person. Geographers have done many studies on what people consider to be the Heartland/Midwest region. States like Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota are solidly Midwest, but Colorado and Kentucky have split personalities. Eastern Colorado, where most Coloradans live, is part of the High Plains and is often grouped with the Midwest region, while lands beyond the Rockies are West. Northern Kentuckians, like those in Louisville and Owensboro, often identify with Midwest, although some use the term “Mid South,” and those near the Tennessee border consider themselves Southern.



The U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate






Republican Senate Plans & Assumptions

First, let’s take a quick look at the Republican strategy for Senate control in 2014, which has largely been parroted by the media and pundits, such as The Washington Post and Virginia’s political prognosticator Larry Sabato. According to GOP predictions, their candidates could take Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, and West Virginia, while holding all their existing seats for a gain of 8 seats. Except for Virginia and North Carolina, the South looks friendly to Republicans, who should take seats from Democrats in Arkansas and Louisiana and win a very close race in Georgia.

The 8-seat gain is based on pretty simple math. Of course, Senate elections are far more complex. As of early October, North Carolina looks like a lost cause for Republicans, South Dakota has a vulnerable Republican candidate, and Republican incumbents could lose in Kansas and Kentucky. Suddenly, Republicans could gain just 6 Democratic seats and maybe lose 2 seats for a net gain of only 4 seats (Republicans need 6 seats to take control of the Senate).

At times, Republicans have somewhat arrogantly claimed that Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Virginia would fall to them, but Democratic candidates in these states are considered reasonably safe as of early October. In my home state of Virginia, Democratic Senator Mark Warner will win re-election easily; rumors are that his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, is using this race as a trial balloon to run for Governor of Virginia in 2017.

Republicans also are assuming lower voter turnout for an off-year election. Some 130 million voters cast their ballots in 2008 and 2012, but only about 90 million voted in 2010. Republicans gained 6 Senate seats in 2010, but lost 8 seats in 2008 and 2 seats in 2012. It is generally considered that lower voter turnout favors Republicans, and that is why Republican-controlled states have passed voter-ID laws, which often discourage minorities and college students from voting.

Finally, Republicans hold the advantage in this election in that they are defending only 15 Senate seats compared to 21 for Democrats. However, Republicans are expected to defend 24 seats in 2016, versus only 10 for Democrats. In other words, Republicans will have little hope of taking the Senate in 2016, if they fall short in 2014.

The Midwest Upsets Republican Plans: Starting in Kansas

The three-way race for Kansas’s Senate seat experienced a geopolitical quake in early September, when Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out of the race, leaving incumbent Senator Pat Roberts (R) facing Independent candidate Greg Orman. Non-partisan polls indicate that Republicans will likely lose this seat. Orman intends to caucus with the majority party, but Republican attack ads may spoil any future relationship with the GOP.

The map above highlights the 4 toss-up Midwestern states (brown), with Kansas at the center:

South Dakota. Republicans took neighboring North Dakota for granted in 2012 and lost the Senate seat to Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Currently, there is a three-way race to succeed Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, who is retiring. Mike Rounds, the Republican, leads with only 35% of the vote, while Democrat Rick Weiland and Independent candidate Larry Pressler continue to gain. Like Pat Roberts in Kansas, polls show Mike Rounds to be unpopular, and this race could become quite close. Should Pressler win, along with Orman in Kansas, the number of Independents in the Senate would double to 4 — a storybook outcome at a time when voters are unhappy with both political parties.

Iowa. U.S. Representative Bruce Braley (D) is running against state Senator Joni Ernst (R) to succeed retiring Senator Tom Harkin (D). Braley’s base in northeast Iowa includes urban and rural constituencies; Ernst is from rural, conservative southwestern Iowa. Des Moines, in Polk County at the center of the state, is the electoral prize for both candidates. Geographically, eastern Iowa will favor Braley and western Iowa will go for Ernst. This will likely be a nail-biter election, but I give a slight edge to Braley.

Kentucky. Polls show that incumbent Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is struggling in his race against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell is unpopular in polls, and tea party support is unenthusiastic or gone. Mitch McConnell has a host of geopolitical vulnerabilities, which I covered in June. Kentucky is usually one of the first states to report election results, but November 4 could be a long night.

Colorado. Senator Mark Udall (D) is purportedly on the ropes, according to conservative commentators, but the state that legalized recreational marijuana last year is not likely to go conservative in a statewide election. Republicans point to two Democratic state senators, who were recalled over gun control legislation in 2013, but this was not a statewide effort. Udall should pull in enough votes from Denver, Boulder, and other cities in central and eastern Colorado to win. Republican Cory Gardner, in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011, will sweep most of his rural district in eastern Colorado and will do well in the far western rural counties, but this will likely not be enough to win the election.

Kansas: Center of a Gathering Political Storm

If Republicans win in all 4 of the toss-up Midwest elections (in brown on the map), then they will gain 7 seats; however, if the GOP loses all four then they will only gain 3 seats. Assuming that Republicans win in other regions of the country and that Kansas goes to Independent candidate Greg Orman, Republicans need to take 3 of the 4 Midwestern Senate seats to win the Senate (a tall order). Also, there will be Senate uncertainty, pending any general runoff election in Louisiana (December 6, 2014) and Georgia (January 6, 2015).

In the end, it appears that Republicans will not take the Senate outright and that control of the Senate may not be determined until early 2015, depending on runoff elections and negotiations with Independents in the Senate.


David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, NVCC-Alexandria

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.

Demographics of Northern Virginia

Interesting information about Virginia’s demographic changes, and how unique northern Virginia is:

Northern Virginia stands out the most among Virginia’s regions, but this is not a new trend as Charles Grymes notes on Virginia Places:

“Northern Virginia has been “different” ever since Lord Fairfax established a land office issuing Northern Neck deeds independently from the colonial government in Williamsburg”

Our profile of Northern Virginia shows that over 54 percent of the region’s adult population has at least a bachelor’s degree, that is nearly 20 percent higher than any of Virginia’s other regions. Similarly, nearly three-fifths of Virginia’s population growth since 2010 has occurred in Northern Virginia.

From the Demographics Research Group at UVA.

Countdown to Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Primary June 10

First of all, there are a lot of good Democratic candidates vying for the right to succeed Congressman Jim Moran, who is retiring. I have met some of the candidates, been to some forums, reviewed campaign sites, and seen countless brochures. Some candidates who have visited Northern Virginia Community College:

Delegate Charniele Herring, Minority Whip in the Virginia House of Delegates, was an impressive candidate. She came to NOVA’s Alexandria campus in 2013 to talk about the Democratic agenda in an election year. Unfortunately, she dropped out of the race on May 10, but her name will still be on the June 10 ballot.

Virginia State Senator Adam Ebbin visited my class on November 13, 2013, at the Alexandria campus to do a presentation on Virginia gerrymandering. Senator Ebbin was elected to the Virginia Senate in 2012 after serving 8 years in the House of Delegates. He is a proud liberal with solid accomplishments and should do well in the June 10 primary.

Delegate Patrick Hope talked to my Cultural and Political Geography classes on March 19, 2014 about the House of Delegates and about his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives.

So who will win on June 10?

Candidates for the 8th Congressional District & District Map

Candidates for the 8th Congressional District & District Map

Geographical Advantage to Patrick Hope

The candidate favored to win the June 10 primary seems to be former Virginia Lt. Governor Don Beyer. He certainly has the money and the political connections to win, but I think Delegate Patrick Hope may pull an upset win. Why does Hope look so good electorally? As a geographer, I look at geopolitical patterns and trends, and I see some advantages:

  • Hope has won three elections to his House of Delegates district (47th) since 2009.
  • His Arlington district holds some 60,000 voters; he is the only candidate from Arlington. His effort to personally meet constituents translates into voter loyalty.
  • Hope’s primary rivals are all from Alexandria, which will divide the Alexandria vote.
  • The Hope campaign seems to be using money more for events and personal appearances, rather than massive (and expensive) media purchases.
  • Hope tried to visit all 159 precincts in the 8th; he even broke a rib after misjudging some stairs while visiting the Woodlawn area (Fairfax) on May 25. His effort to meet Fairfax voters brought responses like, “After living in Fairfax for 42 years, he’s the only candidate to ever knock on my door.”
  • Within the last week, staffers from the Mark Levine and Don Beyer campaigns have come to my door in Arlington, indicating a belated effort in Hope’s district.

Message Advantage to Patrick Hope

From forums to campaign literature, Hope has a simple message. He is an expert on health care, embraces the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and wants to make it work for Virginians. His May 25 rib injury took him off the campaign trail, but it gave him a media opportunity to talk health care while recovering at the Virginia Hospital Center.

He is passionate but concise, and voters who have heard him like what he has to say. Also, his campaign literature is eye-catching and well designed (see image below of donkey’s head in the sand). Finally, he is a former Capitol Hill staffer, who knows how the Hill can work (but often doesn’t).

Patrick Hope's Campaign Literature on Democratic Beliefs

Patrick Hope’s Campaign Literature on Sticking to Democratic Beliefs

What About $Money?

It is true that Patrick Hope has not raised the most money for the June primary, based on recent figures, but he has shown that money isn’t everything. In 2009, Hope ran against four other candidates in a Democratic primary. As you can see on the Virginia Public Access Project table below, he got the most votes without raising the most money.

Patrick Hope's 2009 Primary: Less Money But More Votes

Patrick Hope’s 2009 Primary: Less Money But More Votes

Who Will Vote in the Primary?

The older and more affluent Democratic establishment seems to support Beyer; but several straw polls, including one done by Dranesville Democrats (below) favor the Hope campaign.

strawpollMay19Primaries often offer surprising outcomes. Given the overwhelming Democratic population in the 8th, the primary winner will win the November election. If you are not certain whether you live in the 8th district or not, go to the official U.S. House of Representatives site, type in your zip code, and see a map of your location and district.

Remember to vote on June 10!

David B. Miller, Geography Instructor, NVCC-Alexandria

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.

Slavery in the 21st Century – Human Trafficking Conference

Please join us for this IPS Conference focusing on Human Trafficking on April 7, 2014 at the Alexandria Campus. The conference will feature three panels, at 9:30am, 11:00am, and 7:30pm and will take place in the Bisdorf Building, Room 196. Below are more details regarding each panel. We hope to see you there!
9:30 am – Welcome by Dr. Jim McClellan, Dean of Liberal Arts, Alexandria Campus 
9:35 am – Human Trafficking in a Historical Context
Join these distinguished individuals for a discussion that highlights the similarities between slavery pre-1865 and modern day human trafficking.
Confirmed Panelists:
  • Dr. Jim McClellan, Dean of Liberal Arts, Northern Virginia Community College Alexandria Campus
  • Dr. Joe Windham, Assistant Dean of History and Political Science, Northern Virginia Community College Alexandria Campus
  • Dr. Rashmi Bali Chilka, Assistant Dean of History and Political Science, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus


11:05 am – A Global Perspective on Human Trafficking
Human Trafficking is a social justice issue that affects millions of people worldwide.  Our panelists work to combat these human rights violations. Please join us to hear how these individuals, organizations and governments are seeking to correct these injustices on a global and national level.
Confirmed Panelists:
  • Jennifer Litvak, Human Rights Education Specialist, The Protection Project
  • Guillermo Galarza, The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children
  • Professor Susan French, Senior Staff Attorney, International Human Rights Clinic, George Washington University Law School
  • A representative from the US Department of State
  • Jelena Jovica, Student, Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria Campus


7:30 pm – Human Trafficking: A Contemporary Human Right Community Issue
While many people know that Human Trafficking is an issue across the globe, too often people are unaware of how this issue seeps its way into every corner of our world. In fact, many may find it hard to believe that human trafficking even found a place in Alexandria, VA. Please join our panelists from the area who will discuss how human trafficking is a present-day situation in our community and what these resources are doing in the fight for human rights.
Confirmed Panelists:
  • Jean Kelleher, Director of the Office of Human Rights, City of Alexandria
  • Cathryn “Cat” Evans, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, City of Alexandria
  • Mike Mackey, Gang Prevention and Intervention Coordinator, Court Services, representing the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force
  • Captain Scott Ogden, Alexandria PD
  • Lieutenant Jack Compton, Alexandria PD 
  • Lieutenant Dennis Andreas, Alexandria PD
  • Beth Pfenning, Training & Technical Assistance Specialist, Polaris Project
Click on the following links for larger images of each flyer:
Slavery in the 21st Century – 1 Slavery in the 21st Century – 2 Slavery in the 21st Century – 3 Slavery in the 21st Century – 4
Slavery in the 21st Century - 1
Slavery in the 21st Century - 2 Slavery in the 21st Century - 3 Slavery in the 21st Century - 4

Delegate Patrick Hope Talks to Geography Class at NVCC Alexandria

Delegate Patrick Hope came to the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College to talk to Cultural Geography (Geo 210) classes on Wednesday, March 23. Delegate Hope, represents the 47th district (Arlington) as a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He talked to the students about Virginia gerrymandering and his campaign to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District.

Patrick Hope talks to cultural geography class.

Patrick Hope talks to cultural geography class.

Gerrymandering was the first topic he discussed, which answered the question: What is it? Students found out that gerrymandering is the drawing of electoral district boundaries in awkward shapes to make the districts safe for the party in power. In 2011, when the districts were drawn, Republicans controlled the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate. Therefore, the process of drawing new districts, or redistricting, tended to favor Republicans.

Northern Virginia’s District 51, Virginia House of Delegates, is a classic example of gerrymandering. Republican Delegate Rich Anderson had a close election in 2009, winning with only 50.78% of the vote compared to 49.05% for his Democratic opponent. District 51 went from a compact shape to an elongated one in 2011; it became much more Republican, by getting rid of urban Democratic precincts (red area on map) and adding rural Republican precincts (blue area on map) far to the west.

Redistricting: added area in blue, deleted area in red, and retained area purple.

Redistricting: added area in blue, deleted area in red, and retained area purple.

The House of Delegates does not represent Virginia, according to Delegate Hope. Virginia is a purple state with roughly equal populations of Republicans and Democrats, but the power of gerrymandering makes for a lopsided Virginia House. There are 68 Republican delegates and only 32 Democratic delegates. The next election is in 2015, and by then population growth will make some of the districts less safe for Republicans. In the meantime, Delegate Hope confided that Democrats have virtually no say in the chamber.

Delegate Hope represents about 80,000 people as a Virginia delegate, but this will grow to representing some 800,000 if he becomes a U.S. Representative. However, the road to the U.S. House from the Virginia House is long and expensive. First, there is the Democratic primary on June 10, with Delegate Hope facing 10 other Democrats. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will most likely win the election in November. Hope was asked by one of the students how much money he needed to raise for a Congressional seat, and he replied “about $550,000.”

Health care motivated Delegate Hope to run for the 8th U.S. House district in Virginia. His central concern is “to improve access and care for patients.” Delegate Hope leads community organizations dealing with aging and homelessness, and he is the Director for Legislative Policy at the American College of Cardiology. He firmly believes in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) and feels that he can help it succeed as a member of the U.S. House.

Hope’s geographic campaign strategy is to meet people throughout the district and raise money (in that order). In 2009 he won the Democratic primary by going door to door in the 47th district. Money was strictly secondary. In the 2009 primary Patrick Hope received almost twice the votes of his nearest competitor, while two of his competitors spent more than twice as much in their campaigns. He plans to capture most of the Arlington vote, while his competitors divide the Alexandria vote. His “Hope for Virginia” campaign may just take him from Richmond to Washington.




David B. Miller, Geography Instructor,
NVCC-AlexandriaScreen shot 2014-03-31 at 10.39.18 PM
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.