Virginia State Senate Elections in January 2014: Predictions!

As predicted in my 21 October blog, the Democratic candidates won the elections for Virginia Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. That is the good news for Democrats. The not so good news is that Lt. Governor-elect Ralph Northam and Attorney General-elect Mark Herring resigned their state senate seats to take their new offices. Prior to these two resignations, the Virginia State Senate was tied with 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans — now it is 18 Democrats and 20 Republicans. Control of the senate will hinge on these two special elections in deeply purple Virginia. As a political geographer, I was interested in seeing whether Democrats or Republicans had a geographic advantage in either special election.locatorStateSenate Elections

State Senate District 6: Election on Tuesday, January 7, 2014
This election pits Democrat Lynwood Lewis against Republican Wayne Coleman. Lewis represents the Eastern Shore and Norfolk in the Virginia House of Delegates; Coleman, CEO for CV International, a Norfolk-based shipping firm, is running for his first elected office.

District 6 Geopolitics. The district represents traditionally Democratic Norfolk State Senate District6City and Northampton County (about 67% of the district’s vote), the tossup county of Accomack (23% of the vote), strongly Republican Mathews County (7% of the vote), and tossup city Virginia Beach (3% of the vote). In summary, about 67% of the vote favors Democrats, 7% trends toward Republicans, and 26% of the vote could go either way (a political tossup). The new senate district boundaries in 2011 made district 6 slightly more Democratic by removing areas in Virginia Beach and adding areas in Norfolk City. In the 2012 election, President Obama garnered 57% of the vote in this district, compared to 42% for Mitt Romney.

District 6 Election Prediction. Based on the geospatial characteristics of the district, the Democratic candidate, Lynwood Lewis, should win easily. I would add that the Republican candidate, Wayne Coleman, does not seem ready for prime time. When asked how to improve education in Norfolk (a city that is 43% black), Coleman replied:

“I’m old enough to have lived during the desegregation of the schools here locally. And busing children, in my opinion, around the different districts, getting them out of their local neighborhoods, really was the beginning of the decline in some of the school districts.”

In the gaffe-celebrating 24-hour news cycle, this statement became “things were better before desegregation.” Of course, this alienates blacks and characterizes Coleman as an OWG (Old White Guy). Something Republicans have been trying to avoid in their rebranding effort.

State Senate District 33: Election on Tuesday, January 21, 2014
This election pits Democrat Jennifer Wexton, former Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Loudoun County, against two Republicans: John Whitbeck, described as a Tea Party activist, and Delegate Joe May (Loudoun), a member of the Virginia House of Delegates for 20 years until defeated by Tea Party-endorsed Dave LaRock in the June 2013 primary election. Joe May is running as an Independent candidate.

District 33 Geopolitics. The district consists of parts of Fairfax and Loudoun State Senate District33counties. Urbanized Fairfax is more liberal than Loudoun, which has large rural areas. Loudoun holds 72% of the district’s voters and Fairfax 28%. Within the 33rd State Senate district, 35 out of 40 precincts in Loudoun and all 8 precincts in Fairfax favored Democratic candidates in the 2012 elections for U.S. Senator and President. In 2013, both Loudoun and Fairfax provided a majority of their votes for Democrat Terry McAuliffe over Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Overall, the 33rd district leans to Democrats, but off year or special elections with low turnouts often elect Republicans. In the 2012 election, President Obama captured 59% of the vote in this district, compared to 39% for Mitt Romney.

District 33 Election Prediction. The geopolitical landscape indicates that Democrat Jennifer Wexton should win the election by a wide margin. Whitbeck and May will split the Republican vote, and May should do well with independent voters.

Control of the Virginia Senate. At is point it looks likely that Democrats will win both state senate seats. This means that the Virginia Senate will have 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans, with Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam providing the tiebreaking vote if needed. The Virginia Senate is not up for election until 2015.