Why Rob Bloxom Won Virginia’s 100th District

As predicted in my blog of February 22, Republican candidate Rob Bloxom won the special election for the 100th District  in the Virginia House of Delegates. But why?

Speaker of the House of Delegates, William Howell, made the following statement as the election results revealed a Republican victory on February 25:

 Tonight, citizens of Virginia spoke loud and clear. They overwhelmingly elected Rob Bloxom as Delegate in Virginia’s 100th District and adamantly rejected ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

Wait. What? Speaker Howell’s assessment ignores recent electoral trends. In November 2013, Democrats in favor of the Affordable Care Act (derisively referred to as ObamaCare by Republicans) swept statewide offices—and in 2014 won three special elections to Virginia’s General Assembly.

My conclusion differs from the one purported by Speaker Howell. Rob Bloxom’s electoral victory over Democrat Willie Randall is based primarily on geography:

1. Rob Bloxom resides in Accomack County, the most populous county in District 100. He grew up on the Eastern Shore, and his father represented the area as a delegate from 1978 to 2003. Bloxom won Accomack County with 4,465 votes versus 2,246 for Randall.

2. Willie Randall lives in Northampton County, the least populous county in District 100. He came to the Eastern Shore in 1997, a relative newcomer to most folks in the area. Randall lost his home county in the election, receiving 1,234 votes to Bloxom’s 1,527.

3. Norfolk city’s precincts gave a narrow win to Randall with 893 votes to Bloxom’s 818. Voter turnout was abysmally low (only about 9%), probably because neither candidate was from Norfolk. In contrast, voter turnout was about 30% on the Eastern Shore.

Election results on February 25, 2014 are mostly red (Republican).
Election results by precinct on February 25  are mostly red (Republican). Source: VPAP.

As the map above shows, Republican Rob Bloxom gained votes from most of District 100 (outlined in green). His win can be attributed to his civic stature on the Eastern Shore, his father’s political legacy, and his constant refrain that he “is not a politician or a lawyer.” I heard Bloxom talk about business, government regulation, government ethics, education, and transportation. I really did not hear much from Bloxom or Randall on the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).

In the end, it is likely that the good people of District 100 voted for someone who is like them and can best represent them. To say the people voted against ObamaCare is a bit of a reach. It also ignores the cultural geography of the Eastern Shore.

 

 

Who Will Win Virginia’s 100th District on February 25?

Candidates Are Rob Bloxom (R) & Willie Randall (D)

Candidates Are Rob Bloxom (R) & Willie Randall (D)
Rob Bloxom (left) and Willie Randall

After looking over Bloxom’s (www.robbloxom.com) and Randall’s (www.randallfordelegate.com) campaign sites and newspaper reports, I decided to do a list of geopolitical advantages and disadvantages for each.

Virginia's 100th District
Virginia’s 100th House District & Candidates’ Homes

Rob Bloxom Republican candidate

Advantages
  • He lives in Republican-leaning Accomack County (red marker on map), which holds the most voters (22,000) in District 100 (outlined in red on map).
  • Bloxom’s father served in the Virginia House of Delegates for 25 years.
  • He is a small business owner, who has served his community.
  • His campaign is well funded, including more than $60,000 from Dominion Leadership Trust (Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell’s PAC) as of February 20. It is worth noting that Dominion Leadership Trust has received $508,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which funnels out of state contributions from donors, like the Koch brothers and their industries. RSLC was run from 2010-14 by Ed Gillespie, current Republican candidate for  Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat.
Disadvantages
  • District 100 is considered Democratic leaning.
  • He has not previously run for elective office.
  • His father supported McAuliffe for governor, angering some Republicans.
  • He did not support Wayne Coleman for the Virginia state senate in a special election on January 7, 2014, which earned him a RINO alert.

 

Willie Randall Democratic candidate

Advantages
  • His residence, in heavily Democratic Northampton County (blue marker on map), has 9,000 voters in a district that is 30% Black.
  • He has won elective office before, as a member of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors, 2009-2013.
  • Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim endorsed him (Norfolk has 18,000 voters in District 100).
  • Money appears abundant for his campaign, including about $62,000 from Democrat’s Virginia House Caucus; and most of its money comes from individual campaigns, such as $525,000 from Terry McAuliffe for Governor.
Willie Randall with Lt. Gov Northam (right) a
Willie Randall with Lt. Gov Northam (right) and Norfolk’s Mayor Fraim

 

Disadvantages
  • District 100 is a political battleground, favoring Democrat McAuliffe for governor by 2% in 2013, but swinging to Republican Obenshain for attorney general by the same margin.
  • Randall lost his reelection bid for the Northampton County Board of Supervisors in November 2013.
  • The NRA endorsed Randall’s opponent (see below). Apparently, Randall did not respond to NRA queries, which made the easily offended NRA quite hostile.

Screen shot 2014-02-23 at 10.12.14 AM

So Who Will Win?

The election next week on Tuesday, February 25, will likely be decided by a relatively small number of voters (I would guess around 8,000, depending on the weather). Democrats swept the statewide offices in November and have won all three special elections since then—but the winning margin for the state senate election on the Eastern Shore was razor thin (9 votes out of some 20,300). Virginia is a purple state, and it seems Republicans are due a win.

Yes, I predict that Rob Bloxom will win this election. Why? I think Mr. Bloxom’s base in Accomack County will provide enough votes to carry him to victory. Mr. Randall could win with a surge of votes from the Norfolk area, but this seems unlikely due to previous special election turnout in the Norfolk precincts (see analysis).

If Bloxom wins, Republicans will  have  68 delegates versus 32 for Democrats in the House of Delegates. Mr. Bloxom strikes me as a pragmatic Republican; he often states “I’m not a politician, but a concerned neighbor.” He will likely work with Democrats for Virginia and the Eastern Shore. He may lose Republican votes, but he will gain independent voters and maybe even some Democrats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sochi’s Gathering Storm: A Geospatial Look

There is something that makes me anxious about the Sochi Olympics. No, it is not the media hype about security. The press tends to focus on the negative; and they are doing just that regarding the Super Bowl in New Jersey, with topics ranging from security to cold weather to the lack of business for New Jersey’s hotels and restaurants.

My anxiety went from concern to alarm, so being a geographer I started to look at relevant maps to see if there was a spatial or geospatial reason for these feelings. After all, I had just read a Voice of America article about the “Ring of Steel,” consisting of some “60,000 police and soldiers—26 for each athlete,” protecting Olympic venues. What could go wrong?

Freedom index in Europe
Map 1. Established democracies in green, authoritarian governments in purple, and democracies with autocratic trends in yellow.

Freedom in Russia. The map above from Freedom House vividly illustrates countries whose governments are judged to be free (green), partly free (yellow), and not free (purple). As you can see, Sochi is in Russia, a country considered to have an authoritarian government that is not free. Traditionally, security forces in authoritarian countries are concerned about regime safety rather than public safety. While it is true that regime and public safety coincide for the Olympics, the security forces may not have an instinctive feel for public service and safety, which is critical. Also, Russia is known to have systemic problems with police corruption. Lack of training in public safety and problems with corruption could turn the Ring of Steel into a Ring of Swiss Cheese.

Terrain and Trains. A quick look at the physical geography of the Sochi region is possible thanks to a recent map in Canadian Geographic (below). A few observations come to mind when looking at this map. The extreme relief will make it difficult for the Ring of Steel. The Russians built a new high-speed railway line between Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana, high in the mountains, where Olympic ski events will take place. The train takes passengers from a subtropical environment near the coast to an alpine climate, with elevations ranging from 2,000 to 7,800 feet. First, the newness of this rail project may make it susceptible to mechanical and structural issues. Second, Russian trains and train stations were terrorist targets in 2009, 2010, and 2013.

Sochi and railway to alpine mountains
Map 2. Coastal Sochi and the railway to alpine ski events

Border with Georgia. You will also notice that the Olympic sites, especially the skating events at Adler, are next to an international border with the Republic of Georgia, a country Russia invaded in 2008. But this region of Georgia, known as Abkhazia, declared independence from Georgia in 1999—thanks to Russian military assistance. Not surprisingly, Russian security forces control this part of Georgia.

Muslim Threat. Internal threats to the Olympics from Russia’s Muslim population are mentioned frequently in popular media. Russia has the largest Muslim population in Europe, estimated at some 16 million.  The largest Muslim populations, near Sochi, are historically hostile to Russian rule, and the U.S. and British governments advise against travel to these regions, where there are terrorist attacks (map below). Russia is a migration destination for many legal and illegal Muslim immigrants. Moscow holds some 600,000 Muslims, and many Muslim migrants came to Sochi to build the infrastructure for the Winter Olympic Games.

Areas of terrorist attacks near Sochi
Map 3. Regions of terrorist attacks and Muslim extremists near Sochi

Outside Threats. One threat that immediately comes to mind is weather. What if the weather is too warm? This was a problem for the 2012 Vancouver Olympics. However, threats are more likely to come from foreign nationalists or terrorists. A brief review of outside threats would include the following countries:

  • Ukraine. Political instability in Ukraine is high, with large-scale protests in the capital, Kiev, and many western Ukrainian cities. The current Ukrainian government is backed by Moscow, and draconian action by Ukraine against protesters would reflect negatively on Russia.
  • Georgia. As mentioned above, the Republic of Georgia (population 5 million) was invaded by Russia (population 143 million) in 2008. Russia’s victory humiliated Georgia, and Georgians will seek to restore their political dignity at this Olympics.
  • Syria. Russian military assistance and political protection preserves the Assad regime, continuing the bloodbath in Syria. Arab or Kurdish rebels from Syria could look for revenge at the Olympics.

 A Gathering Storm.  Russian prestige is on the line during these Olympics. My hope is that the Russian athletes and people succeed, but I am cautious about the outcome for the Russian government. There seems to be a gathering storm surrounding Sochi, and storm fronts consisting of corruption, political unrest, and terrorist threats are strong.