The Fate of the U.S. Senate

The so-called Republican wave should swamp the Senate on Election Day, according to most pundits, including Virginia’s Larry Sabato. The Republican’s seem to be winning the sound-bite war, declaring that their purported war on women is “tiresome,” raising the minimum wage would “kill jobs,” and repealing Obamacare is “job one.”

I am not sure declaring women’s issues irrelevant, sacrificing minimum wage earners, and taking away health care will win the Senate. In this election cycle the GOP seems much like the self-congratulating braggart, who is being set up for a fall. Of course, polls show that Republicans are favored to take the Senate, but this reminds me of the Scottish referendum in September, where polls indicated that 52% wanted independence, but the actual vote revealed that only 45% wanted to break free from the United Kingdom. A poll can be wrong, slanted, or political propaganda, depending on who is paying for it.

Why Are So Many Senate Races So Close?

Money! The media like close elections because they sell political ads. The campaigns make elections look close, so money keeps coming in for their candidates. So with polls that are potentially erroneous and races that are engineered for excitement, how can we anticipate results? Well, there are some basic trends in Senate elections:

  1. Incumbents usually win—91% were reelected in 2012; 84% in 2010
  2. More Republican than Democratic incumbents have lost in recent election cycles—14 Republican and 4 Democratic incumbents have lost reelection since 2004.
  3. Lopsided Senates tend to see the biggest change in seats. For example, before the 2010 elections Democrats held 57 seats versus 41 for Republicans—and Democrats lost 6 seats. Currently Democrats have 53 seats versus 45 for Republicans, and GOP chances of getting 6 seats are less likely.

Keeping in mind that most incumbents win reelection and that Democratic incumbents tend to lose less on average, I made the following map of predicted election results for November 4, 2014:

The Senate Map After Election Day

The Senate Map After Election Day

The Map After Election Day!

Looking at the map, it looks like Republicans will gain (+R) 6 seats, picking up seats currently held by Democrats in Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana—although the results of the Louisiana race may have to wait until December 6, if none of the candidates get over 50% of the vote.

Democratic incumbents in Arkansas and Louisiana are expected to lose reelection. Republican Senator Pat Roberts seemed to take voters for granted until it was too late, and Independent Greg Orman should win the Senate seat in Kansas (+Ind).

Finally, Democrat Michelle Nunn looks to take a Senate seat from Republicans in Georgia (+D), but a runoff election scheduled for January 6 could leave control of the Senate in limbo until January 6.

The speed of election results is anyone’s guess, and if Democrat Mark Udall wins in Colorado, then Republicans will likely file a voter fraud suit because of the new mail in voting system. Assuming runoff elections in Georgia and Louisiana, Democrats should have 47 seats—or 49 if one includes the two Independents from Maine and Vermont. Republicans, with 48 seats, will need to win Louisiana and Georgia to get to 50 seats, then convince Greg Orman (Kansas) to caucus with them (and not the Democrats) to get to 51. The three Independents in the Senate will have real power at a time when most voters are unhappy with the two major political parties.

Senate control may not be known until the Georgia election on January 6. The fate of the Senate may take weeks to determine.


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.





How Will Virginia Vote in 2014?

Okay, I just gave a test on political geography to one of my classes, and I decided to sit down and collect my thoughts on the election next Tuesday, November 4. After getting my students all hyped up about electoral geography, I am hoping some of that enthusiasm translates into a memorable blog. Well, here goes…

Virginia Geopolitical Predictions—The Senate

Virginia’s Senate seat will go to incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Warner. Surprise! Republican Ed Gillespie’s campaign boils down to, “Governor Warner wouldn’t recognize Senator Warner,” but candidate Gillespie does not offer much substance—just tired old Republican rhetoric. Gillespie will lose by some 500,000 votes, but Virginians will probably see him run for governor in 2017. Geopolitically, Warner will carry most of the counties and cities throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, with the exception of some rural counties, especially in the west and southwest. Virginia went mostly blue (map below) in 2008, when Warner beat former Governor James Gilmore for the U.S. Senate seat.

Democrat Mark Warner was elected to the Senate in 2008. The Republican candidate only got a handful of counties (red).

A mostly blue Virginia: Mark Warner won most cities and counties in 2008







Virginia Geopolitical Predictions—U.S. House Seats

All 11 of Virginia’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election, and most will return the (mostly Republican) incumbents. Yes, people are vastly unhappy with Congress, yet they seem to return their representatives.Virginia races that are interesting or competitive this year are in districts 2, 7, and 10 (see map below).


U.S. House Races in Virginia: Both Boring & Exciting







District 2. The geography of the 2nd District is delightfully complex, thanks to Republican-led gerrymandering efforts in 2011. The district includes Accomack and Northampton counties and the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News. Here, Democrat Suzanne Patrick is challenging Republican incumbent Scott Rigell. Normally the incumbent should win, but this district is competitive geographically. Rigell was elected in the Republican wave of 2010, but in 2012 the district gave Democrat Tim Kaine more votes than former Republican Senator George Allen. Rigell defended his seat in 2012 by spending $2.5 million—one of the most expensive 2012 House races in Virginia. The key to this district is Virginia Beach: The city split its vote in the 2013 gubernatorial contest between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Patrick’s military background could give her a boost on November 4, especially if turnout is high.

Redrawing the 3rd District will impact other districts.

Redrawing the 3rd District will impact other districts.

District 7. This district is not competitive, but it is exciting. David Brat’s upset primary win over Eric Cantor in June 2014 means this is an open seat—with a political newbie. The 7th District is safely Republican, based on the boundaries set in 2011 by Virginia’s Republican legislature. However, the boundaries for District 7 will change in 2015, because the neighboring 3rd District was declared unconstitutional in 2014. Looking at the map at left, changes to the 3rd District will likely give surrounding districts a greater minority population. Assuming he wins election, Representative Brat will have the least seniority in the Republican delegation, and his district could see the greatest change in boundaries, making it more competitive.

District 10. This is by far the most competitive Congressional district in Virginia. This is an open seat due to Republican Frank Wolf’s retirement. The candidates are Republican Barbara Comstock and Democrat John Foust. The district includes Fairfax, Frederick, and Loudoun counties, as well as the cities of Manassas and Winchester.

Delegate Barbara Comstock has represented District 34 in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2010. About two thirds of her district is in Fairfax, with the rest in eastern Loudoun County. Comstock won her last election with only 50% of the vote, versus 49% for her Democratic opponent. Also, Comstock has drawn fire from tea party activists, which could limit conservative support.

John Foust won his last election to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisions with 60% of the vote. Loudoun and Fairfax counties are key to this race, and Democrats have a voting edge in both counties. A recent Republican poll shows Comstock as winning big, but this seems to be a ploy to discourage Democratic voters from turning out. Other polls have been more competitive.

In the end, District 10 is the only one that I believe will change from Republican to Democrat on November 4. Based on the political geography of the 10th district, I think John Foust will win and the district map of Virginia will have one more Democratic district (map below). We will see on November 4.


Will Democrats gain a House seat in Virginia?









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.


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 1 or 2 seats for a net gain of only 5 or 4 seats (Republicans need 6 seats to take control of the Senate). Of course, many of the states, such as Colorado and Iowa are razor close and could go to either party’s candidate.

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. New mail-in voting and same-day registration will increase turnout and help Democrats. 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.