Virginia’s Ultra Close 6th Senate District Election: Blame Norfolk & Money

The January 7, 2014 special election for the 6th Virginia Senate District was close, I mean really close, the margin of victory was only 10 votes as of January 10. Currently, Delegate Lynwood Lewis (Democrat) leads with 10,200 votes versus 10,190 votes for Republican candidate Wayne Coleman.

In my January 1 blog, I thought Lewis would win easily because he represents the 100th district in the House of Delegates, which covers much of the area in the Virginia Senate’s 6th district, a Democratic-leaning district (see maps below).

Map comparing Virginia's 6th Senate District to the 100th House of Delegates District
Map comparing Virginia’s 6th Senate District to the 100th House of Delegates District

 Election results by 6th district regions. Geopolitically, Virginia is known as a purple state, with red (Republican) regions and blue (Democratic) regions. The same is true for the 6th district. The counties of Mathews and Accomack and the city of Virginia Beach tend to be red. The city of Norfolk and the Northampton County trend blue. Election results (below) were predictable in that Mathews, Accomack, and Virginia Beach went mostly red. Northampton and Norfolk went blue, but Norfolk did not provide as many Democratic votes as expected.

map2

 Why was Norfolk a surprise in this election? The majority of voters in the 6th district (58%) come from Norfolk, a city largely favorable to Democrats. Well, Lewis got more votes in Norfolk than Coleman (4,911 to 4,512), but he should have gotten much more. One problem is that voter turnout was low in Norfolk; as I said, this part of the 6th district should provide 58% of the vote, but Norfolk provided only 46% of the vote in the January 7 special election.

 Why the low voter turnout? Low special election turnout is a consistent problem. Also, the weather was very cold on January 7, going from 47°F the day before to 16°F on Election Day. But the real reason could be that Lewis defeated Norfolk natives Paula Miller and Andria McClellan in the Democratic primary. Miller represented Norfolk in the House of Delegates from 2005-2012. Andria McClellan was Treasurer for Ralph Northam’s winning 2013 campaign for Virginia Lt. Governor. In the November 16 primary, both Miller and McClellan received more votes than Lewis in Norfolk—but Lewis gained more votes in the Eastern Shore precincts and won the primary. I would guess that some Democrats did not vote because of loyalty to Miller or McClellan. Finally, Wayne Coleman operates his business in Norfolk, which undoubtedly garnered him votes in certain precincts.

Was campaign money important? It is not just that Wayne Coleman had more money—he had way more money! According to VPAP, Coleman raised about $599,000 to $396,000 for Lewis. Almost $400,000 of Coleman’s contributions came from Republican national and state committees, $290,000 from the Republican Party’s Virginia Senate Caucus, including $80,000 on December 24—quite a Christmas present! By comparison, the Democratic Party’s Virginia Senate Caucus gave a comparatively underwhelming $164,000 to Lewis.

Electoral geography is often a complex interaction of different factors. Deciding factors in this election could be low voter turnout in Norfolk and large differences in campaign funds. As of this writing, the State Board of Elections certifies Democratic candidate Lynwood Lewis as the winner, but Republican candidate Wayne Coleman is requesting a recount. This election is pivotal in determining red or blue control of the Virginia Senate.

Author: David Miller

Learned about the wonders of geography while working at National Geographic for some 25 years. Started teaching one class a semester at NOVA in the 1990s but became a dedicated instructor in 2010.

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