Virginia’s Purple Politics

Virginia elections and geography made for an energetic Post-Election Conference on November 5, which was organized by the NOVA Institute of Public Service. This conference discussed the results of Virginia’s November 3 election, and its implications for 2016. Below is my PowerPoint presentation, highlighting some of the geopolitical outcomes of this election with maps and graphics.

PostElectionNov5-2015 (click on this link for slides)

Explaining election results as Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Charniele Herring look on.

Explaining election results as Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Charniele Herring look on.

Both Virginia Republicans and Democrats can claim victories in this election, including:

  • Republicans kept control of the Virginia Senate by 1 seat.
  • Democrats gained 2 seats and lost 1 seat (all in Northern Virginia), giving them 34 seats and ending Republicans “veto-proof” majority in the House of Delegates.
  • Republicans held on to the Richmond area’s Senate District 10–barely–which was the best chance for a Democratic pickup.
  • Democratic State Senator John Edwards (District 21) won re-election by more than 8  percentage points in southwestern Virginia (a conservative stronghold) despite Republicans raising more money.
  • Republican State Senator Dick Black (District 13) won re-election to his Northern Virginia seat in the closest race for any Senate incumbent. Democrats note that he won by only 4.8% (52.2% to 47.5%) compared to 14.2% in 2011.

A record $43 million was spent by both political parties on Virginia Senate elections. However, all this money did not motivate most Virginians to vote. Voter turnout was only 29% of all registered voters, meaning that only 1.5 million out 5.2 million Virginians voted for candidates that will determine Virginia law. Public indifference to elections is often blamed on gerrymandered districts, whose contorted geographic shapes fail to create a sense of community but succeed in protecting incumbents.

A purple Virginia sums up the electoral geography. Republicans are favored in most local elections, but Democrats have won all statewide offices. Urban growth in Northern Virginia favors Democrats, but Republicans are more consistent and passionate voters. The 2016 Presidential election in Virginia should be interesting.

David B. Miller, Geography & Geopolitics Instructor, NVCC-Alexandria & Annandale

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. Comments are welcome.

Virginia Senate Map 2015: Mid-October Revision

Competitive Virginia Senate Races as of October 19, 2015

Competitive Virginia Senate Races as of October 19, 2015

Why the Revision?

After looking at candidate debate results and fundraising efforts to mid-October, I have made a few revisions to the map I published in early October:

District 6. First term Democratic Senator Lynwood Lewis will retain his seat. His opponent, Richard Ottinger, is faltering on fundraising. This race no longer seems to be a major contest.
Previous Prediction: Democratic hold
October 19 Prediction: Safe Democratic hold

District 7. A big issue pushed by Democrat Gary McCollum focuses on gifts received by Sen. Wagner, which could also be a reminder of Governor McDonnell’s conviction. Wagner is still ahead on fundraising, thanks in part to an infusion from the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus and the Republican Party of Virginia of some $100,000 in September alone. In response, McCollum has received a similar amount from comparable Democratic organizations. District demographics favor McCollum, but voter turnout in this type of election (not featuring a governor or president) gives Wagner the advantage. Low turnouts favor Republicans.
Previous Prediction: Tossup
October 19 Prediction: Tossup

District 10. The fight between Democrat Dan Gecker and Republican Glen Sturtevant over this district west of Richmond has been referred to as the “Gettysburg of Senate elections.” In September, Gecker raised the most money of any Senate candidate, with $501,500. In 2013, the district favored McAuliffe over Cuccinelli 46% to 42%, so Gecker should win. However, the Republican State Leadership Committee is not giving up, contributing a whopping $330,000 to Sturtevant in September and October.
Previous Prediction: Democratic pickup
October 19 Prediction: Democratic pickup

District 13. Republican Senator Dick Black is an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district. However, the district includes the fast-growing areas of eastern Loudoun county and northern Prince William county. The district seems to be trending more Democratic. A perceived sexist tweet directed at Democrat Jill McCabe from Senator Black appears to have made the race closer. Also, McCabe ($275,000) raised considerably more money than Black ($61,000) in September.
Previous Prediction: Republican hold
October 19 Prediction: Tossup

Senator Dick Black and Dr. Jill McCabe
Did Republican Senator Dick Black insult women?

NEW! District 19. I need to mention this fascinating three-way race in the heart of southwestern Virginia. Democratic Mike Hamlar has raised more money ($163,000) than Republican Dave Suetterlein ($117,000) in a solidly Republican district. Plus there is Republican squabbling over how Suetterlein got the nomination, and Republican Steven Nelson is running as an independent. If the Republican vote is split, then Hamlar could win; but it is likely that Republicans will retain this seat.
October 19 Prediction: Likely Republican hold

District 20. Republican Bill Stanley and Democrat Kim Adkins met in an early October debate, and the major topics included transportation (a future I-73) and education. In 2011, Stanley moved from District 19 to District 20, some Republicans resented him as an outsider; today he lives on the edge of District 20 in Glade Hill. However, Stanley leads in money and will need to make a mistake to lose an election in this Republican-leaning district, which voted for Gillespie over Senator Warner 51% to 47% in 2014. It is likely Stanley will hold on to his seat, unless voter turnout is unusually high.
Previous Prediction: Tossup
October 19 Prediction: Likely Republican hold 

Is District 20 Republican Senator Stanley in trouble?
Is District 20 Republican Senator Bill Stanley in trouble?

District 21. Virginia’s Republican Party organizations have been throwing money at this race to remove Senator Edwards, the last Democratic senator in southwestern Virginia, committing more than $152,000 to Republican Nancy Dye in September alone. What’s more, the national conservative group Americans for Prosperity (funded by the Koch Brothers) has taken aim at Senator Edwards for reckless job-killing energy mandates. However, voting trends in the district are decidedly Democratic, and Senator Edwards should win re-election.
Previous Prediction: Democratic hold
October 19 Prediction: Likely Democratic hold

District 29. Democrat Jeremy McPike’s campaign brought in $448,000 in September versus $264,000 for Republican Hal Parrish. In addition, the Republican State Leadership Committee gave $100,000 to the Parrish campaign October 19. In 2013, McAuliffe got 57% of the vote in this solidly Democratic district. McPike should win.
Previous Prediction: Democratic hold
October 19 Prediction: Likely Democratic hold

Looking at the map, Republicans are on the defensive more than Democrats. Based on Virginia’s statewide elections in 2013 and current campaign trends, the odds favor Democrats picking up the seats necessary to control the Virginia Senate.

David B. Miller, Geography & Geopolitics Instructor, NVCC-Alexandria & Annandale

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. Comments are welcome.

The Map: 2015 Virginia Senate Races

It’s the beginning of October, and campaign signs are popping up like flowers in spring. This is the sprint season for political campaigns, especially in Virginia where all 40 members of the State Senate and 100 members of the House of Delegates are up for election on November 3, 2015.

Whereas Democrats need to win an impossible 19 seats from Republicans to take control of the House of Delegates, they need to capture only 1 seat in the Virginia Senate to take back control that they lost in 2014. Currently, Republicans hold 21 seats and Democrats 19, and Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam could break a 20-20 tie.

The Senate districts were drawn in 2011 to protect incumbent senators, and so the majority of districts are safe for sitting senators. Most races are boringly predictable. However, there are a few districts where retiring senators created open seats—and some electoral excitement. Also, a handful of districts are unpredictable due to demographic changes, especially in urbanized areas, that have taken place since the 2011 redistricting. These exciting Senate district contests are shown in yellow on the map, with notes showing campaign funding based on the latest reports.

Major contests exist in 7 of Virginia's 40 Senate districts

Major contests exist in 7 of Virginia’s 40 Senate districts

District 6. Democratic Senator Lynwood Lewis is an incumbent in a Democratic-leaning district. He should win.
Prediction: Democratic hold

Sen. Frank Wagner (left) and Gary McCollum

Sen. Frank Wagner (left) and Gary McCollum

District 7. Republican Senator Frank Wagner represents an urbanized district favorable to Democrats that includes Virginia Beach and Norfolk and is almost a quarter African American. In September, Democratic challenger Gary McCollum suffered Republican attacks because he misstated his inactive Army Reserve status; then Senator Wagner generated outrage from the Virginia Black Caucus for the following quote at a fancy country club luncheon: “So it’s a very diverse district. I wish sometimes I represented this half, but I’m very, very happy to represent the folks I have.” Perhaps the candidate who makes no mistakes in October will win.
Prediction: Toss-up

Dan Gecker (left) and Glen Sturtevant

Dan Gecker (left) and Glen Sturtevant

District 10. Republicans will likely lose this open seat because demographic changes and voting trends favor Democrats.  Dan Gecker’s campaign needs high Democratic voter turnout in the Richmond area to offset Republican votes for Glen Sturtevant in the rural western part of the district.
Prediction: Democratic pickup

District 13. Republican Senator Dick Black is an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district. He should win.
Prediction: Republican hold

Kim Adkins (left) and Sen. Bill Stanley

Kim Adkins (left) and Sen. Bill Stanley

District 20. Republican Bill Stanley defeated the Democratic incumbent in the 2011 election by some 600 votes, getting only 46.8% of the total in this borderline Republican district. Senator Stanley is state chairman for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, which will have both a positive and negative impact on voters. Democrat Kim Adkins, former Martinsville mayor, may have a chance at an upset if the Democratic areas in and around Martinsville, Danville, and South Boston enjoy higher than average voter turnout on Election Day.
Prediction: Toss-up

Sen. John Edwards (left) and Nancy Dye

Sen. John Edwards (left) and Nancy Dye

District 21. The challenge to Democratic Senator John Edwards follows a Republican strategy of targeting Democrats in southwestern Virginia, where Republicans took Senate district 20 in 2011 and district 38 (west of district 21) in 2014. However, Senator Edwards should receive more than enough Democratic votes from the urban populations in Roanoke and Blacksburg to counter the rural Republican votes for opponent Nancy Dye east and west of Blacksburg.
Prediction: Democratic hold

Jeremy McPike (left) and Hal Parrish

Jeremy McPike (left) and Hal Parrish

District 29. Democrat Jeremy McPike should win this open seat due to demographics and voting patterns. Republican Hal Parrish, current Manassas mayor, is a strong candidate with lots of money, but the Democratic precincts of Dale City should overwhelm the rural and suburban Republican precincts in the west.
Prediction: Democratic hold

The Toss-ups in districts 7 and 20 should favor either the Republican or Democratic candidates by late October. The last time the Virginia Senate was elected in 2011, a Republican governor campaigned with his party’s candidates; but in 2015 a Democratic governor boosts Democrats (other active campaigners are Lt. Gov. Northam and Attorney General Herring). In any case, it looks like only a few races will determine control of the Virginia Senate come November 3.

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

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. Comments are welcome.

Geography & Virginia Politics

State Senator Dave Marsden and former Virginia Delegate Bob Hull, currently the community outreach specialist for NOVA’s Annandale Campus, visited Instructor David Miller’s Cultural Geography (Geo 210) class at NOVA Annandale on June 10 to talk about changes in their districts over time.

Both speakers discussed redistricting, which is done after every census so that voting districts are roughly equal in population, and “gerrymandering,” where the political party in power shapes districts to gain political advantage. Districts were last redrawn in 2011, when Republicans controlled the House of Delegates and the governor’s mansion, with Democrats a majority in the Virginia Senate. Districts were drawn to protect incumbent legislators and minimize the number of Democratic districts in the House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) talked about his serpentine-shaped State Senate District 37, which includes NOVA’s Annandale campus (map below). The 2011 redistricting stretched his Fairfax County district east to west, from inside the Beltway to the Loudoun County border, with a population of some 200,000 people.

Slide3

Senate district 37 before and after redistricting.

The map in the image below shows his district as conservative and Republican in the west (red areas), and more liberal and Democratic in the east (blue areas). Senator Marsden asked students to “define liberty” and many students were at a loss to put this common concept into words. He explained, “liberty means different things to different people.” His constituents differed in their concerns about liberty, ranging from guns and fox pens to Virginia’s minimum wage and the Sea of Japan – East Sea controversy in Virginia textbooks.

State Senator Marsden describing his district.

State Senator Marsden describing his district.

Sen. Marsden talks in Oct 2015 about elections.

Sen. Marsden talks in Oct 2015 about elections.

Former Delegate Bob Hull speaking to students.

Former Delegate Bob Hull speaking to students.

Former Delegate Hull represented District 38 from 1993 to 2010. A lifelong Falls Church area resident, Hull earned his associate degree in biology at NOVA before transferring to Virginia Tech. In the 1990s, Hull’s district stretched from Alexandria in the east to the beltway in the west and included all of the City of Falls Church. Hull described how District 38 lost Falls Church, became more compact, and changed in ethnic diversity, as the district’s population swelled to more than 80,000 people by 2010.

Both speakers reminded students that 2015 is an election year in Virginia, with all 100 delegates and 40 state senators up for election on November 3, 2015. They noted that too few people vote in primaries (see graph below), which presents a danger to democracy. Students were encouraged to be aware of local issues and vote in primaries as well as the November elections.

Only 29% of all voters take part in General Assembly (GA) elections for the House of Delegates and State Senate, shrinking to 7.8% for the 2015 primaries.

Just 29% of Virginians voted in the 2011 General Assembly (GA) elections for the House of Delegates and State Senate, but only 7.8% voted in the 2015 primaries.

Senator Ebbin Visits NOVA Alexandria

State Senator Adam Ebbin came to the Alexandria campus to talk to Professor David Miller’s Cultural Geography (Geo 210) class on Thursday, March 19. Senator Ebbin represents the 30th district (parts of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax) as a Democratic member of the Virginia Senate. His district borders the Potomac River from National Airport to Mount Vernon and includes part of NOVA’s Alexandria campus. He spoke to students about gerrymandering, the Virginia Senate, and his bills in the recent legislative session.

Ebbin4

Senator Ebbin discussing his district.

Ebbin explained that gerrymandering is the drawing of voting district boundaries in awkward shapes to make the districts safe for the party in power. A senator can choose voters rather than voters electing a senator.

In 2011, when the districts were drawn, Republicans controlled the governor’s mansion, Virginia House of Delegates, and the Virginia Senate. Therefore, the process of drawing new districts, or redistricting, tended to favor Republicans.

Virginia is a purple state with roughly equal populations of Republicans and Democrats, but the power of gerrymandering gives an edge to Senate Republicans, who hold 21 seats versus 19 seats for Democrats. Democratic voters are packed into Senator Ebbin’s elongated district, making districts to the south and west safer for Republicans. Each state senator represents about 200,000 people, and all 40 senators will be up for election in November 2015.

In 2011, District 30 changed in shape and size due to gerrymandering.

In 2011, District 30 changed in shape and size due to gerrymandering.

Senator Ebbin also discussed a number of his bills, including ones for cleaner energy, mass transit funding, and protections against discrimination in state employment. He highlighted his sponsorship of Senate Joint Resolution 337 commending Dr. Robert Templin for his 13 years of service as President of Northern Virginia Community College.

Ebbin6

Senator Ebbin taking questions from students studying political geography.

After his presentation, Senator Ebbin met with Dr. Jimmie McClellan, Dean of Liberal Arts, and Marcus Henderson, Community Outreach Specialist.

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.