Virginia’s 2013 Election: A Cartographic Perspective

The 2013 governor’s race is on in Virginia between Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli. As a cartographer, I was curious as to the geopolitical landscape of Virginia. I sought to define the regions of Virginia that favored either Democrats or Republicans.

Population Geography of Virginia Voters
To appreciate a map of election results, a quick review of population density in Virginia would be helpful. Almost one third of Virginia’s 8.1 million people, about 2.6 million, are in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County alone has more than 1.1 million. Next in importance is the Hampton Roads region, dominated by the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News, with some 1.7 million people. Finally, the state capital, Richmond, is at the center of the Greater Richmond metropolitan area, a region holding about 1.3 million people. Outside of these three regions, the rest of Virginia is mostly sparsely populated, with only about 30% of the state’s population and voters. In general, urban areas tend to favor Democrats, and rural areas gravitate toward Republicans.

Population centers of Virginia
Population centers of Virginia

The 2005 Virginia Governor’s Race
In 2005, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Tim Kaine (Democrat), ran against Virginia’s Attorney General, Jerry Kilgore (Republican). The map below shows the cities and counties won by Kaine in blue and the ones garnered by Kilgore in red.

Geographic Analysis of 2005 Election: The vote-rich counties and cities in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Greater Richmond were key to Tim Kaine’s victory. As the former mayor of Richmond, Kaine ran up the vote in Richmond, as well as in other Democratic urban strongholds, such as Alexandria, Arlington, and Norfolk. He also captured the traditionally Republican cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, along with the growing Northern Virginia suburban counties of Loudoun and Prince William. Kaine even did well in some rural counties of western Virginia.

Other 2005 Races: Despite Kaine’s victory, Republicans won the offices for lieutenant governor and attorney general. However, the attorney general’s race between Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell was very close, with McDonnell getting only 360 more votes than Deeds out of 1.9 million ballots.

The 2009 Virginia Governor’s Race
In 2009, the political geography of Virginia was decidedly redder, when Virginia’s Attorney General Bob McDonnell (Republican) ran against State Senator Creigh Deeds (Democrat) again—but this time for governor.


Geographic Analysis of 2009 Election: The mostly red Virginia in this election points to the geopolitical weaknesses of the Deeds’ campaign. Deeds was a rural Democrat from western Virginia, and he did not excite the Democratic urban base in Northern Virginia and elsewhere. This lack of excitement affected voter turnout, which was only 40.3% of the electorate—down from 44.9% in 2005. Also, McDonnell successfully campaigned as an effective and non-political attorney general throughout Virginia. McDonnell had represented Virginia Beach as a state senator, and his campaign gained votes in Virginia’s normally Democratic urban areas. Finally, many pundits noted that McDonnell won the fundraising race, with almost $24 million, compared to about $13 million for Deeds.

Other 2009 Races: It is important to note that Ken Cuccinelli, the current Republican candidate for governor, won his election for Virginia Attorney General in 2009. Cuccinelli prevailed in most counties, but he lost in Fairfax County, even though McDonnell won there. This is significant because Cuccinelli represented parts of Fairfax as a Virginia state senator.

The 2013 Race for Governor of Virginia: Setting the Stage
While far apart ideologically, Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli are close geographically, with both living in Northern Virginia. McAuliffe’s home is in Fairfax County and Cuccinelli resides in Prince William County. This guarantees that Northern Virginia will be a battleground for both campaigns.

The map below of Virginia sets the stage for the 2013 campaign by mapping the geopolitical landscape of Virginia, based on the seven statewide elections since 2005: two for Virginia governor (2005 and 2009); three for U.S. senator (2006, 2008, and 2012); and two presidential races (2008 and 2012).


In general, Northern Virginia has shown a recent tendency to support Democratic candidates, but in 2009 McDonnell captured everything, except for the Democratic strongholds of Arlington and Alexandria. The Hampton Roads region appears to tilt toward Democrats, except for Virginia Beach. The Richmond area possesses a Democratic city—but with many Republican suburbs. In any election strategy, Democrats will try to run up votes in Northern Virginia and take most of the Hampton Roads region, which would duplicate Kaine’s 2005 success. The Republican model would follow McDonnell’s 2009 triumph by holding most of rural Virginia, while targeting Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia. Republicans also need Virginia Beach in the Hampton Roads area, along with Henrico and Chesterfield counties in the Richmond region.

Who will win? It is way too early to say. The path to electoral victory seems to require more effort on the part of Republicans because recent statewide elections seem to favor Democrats—especially in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. However, the geopolitical landscape is just one factor in an election, others include the appeal of the candidates and the effectiveness of their respective campaigns. It is a long road to Election Day on November 5th, and both candidates have a lot of Virginia geography to cover.

June 11: Geopolitics in Virginia

The starter’s pistol is ready to sound for statewide races in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The race for governor, between Ken Cuccinelli (Republican) and Terry McAuliffe (Democrat), will officially start in earnest after the Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 11, where Mr. McAuliffe is running unopposed. However, Democrats will choose candidates for Virginia Lt. Governor and Attorney General.

Less than 4% of registered voters are expected to vote on June 11, and my guess is that the party faithful will back state Senator Ralph Northam for lieutenant governor and Mark Herring for attorney general. However, Aneesh Chopra may have the connections and money to get the lieutenant governor’s nomination.

As the candidates come out of the starting gate, they need to consider the political geography of Virginia. In general, urban areas favor Democrats and rural areas back Republicans. Suburban areas can go either way, and both candidates will focus on Northern Virginia. Why? Reasons include:

-Cuccinelli and McAuliffe are both from Northern Virginia.

-More than 25 percent of Virginia voters reside in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County is the biggest prize with 1.1 million people.

The jigsaw-puzzle-like map below reveals counties and cities favorable to Democratic and Republican candidates, based on six recent statewide elections. The Democratic candidate needs to do well in Northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Norfolk-Newport News areas to offset Republican votes in rural southern and western Virginia. The Republican candidate needs to run up the votes in Virginia Beach and suburban Richmond—and try to take Fairfax County in Northern Virginia.
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Watergate! Really?

George Will in “Echoes of WatergateIRS cartoon,” compares the IRS scrutiny of tea party groups to Watergate, a nadir moment for Republicans. Watergate was President Nixon’s attempt to subvert the two-party system—or in essence, our democracy. Personally, it seems odd that Republicans bring up their worst scandal as a way of illustrating potential political wrongdoing in a Democratic administration.

Mr. Will should know from Politics 101 that the bureaucracy is a separate power center for government policy, like Congress, lobbyists, or the military. As part of the bureaucracy, IRS employees make decisions, sometimes bad ones. Yes, the IRS is part of the executive branch of government, but chances that the White House reached down several bureaucratic layers to an IRS office in distant Cincinnati seem far-fetched. Mr. Will offers no proof of a White House-IRS connection, so the echoes of Watergate would appear inaudible.

The tea party and conservative chorus make the echoes of Watergate seem stronger than they are in reality. Frankly, it is in their interest. A negative campaign based on IRS overreach may reward tea party “victims” in elections in 2013 (Virginia governor) and 2014 (House & Senate). We will see if this purported scandal has legs to go the distance. But even though the IRS is a favorite whipping boy and easy target, this negative campaign may not bring the success that Republicans seek.