Delegate Patrick Hope came to the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College to talk to my Cultural Geography (Geo 210) classes on Wednesday, March 19. Delegate Hope, represents the 47th district (Arlington) as a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He talked to the students about Virginia gerrymandering and his campaign to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District.
Gerrymandering was the first topic he discussed, which answered the question: What is it? Students found out that gerrymandering is the drawing of electoral district boundaries in awkward shapes to make the districts safe for the party in power. In 2011, when the districts were drawn, Republicans controlled the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate. Therefore, the process of drawing new districts, or redistricting, tended to favor Republicans.
Northern Virginia’s District 51, Virginia House of Delegates, is a classic example of gerrymandering. Republican Delegate Rich Anderson had a close election in 2009, winning with only 50.78% of the vote compared to 49.05% for his Democratic opponent. District 51 went from a compact shape to an elongated one in 2011; it became much more Republican, by getting rid of urban Democratic precincts (red area on map) and adding rural Republican precincts (blue area on map) far to the west.
The House of Delegates does not represent Virginia, according to Delegate Hope. Virginia is a purple state with roughly equal populations of Republicans and Democrats, but the power of gerrymandering makes for a lopsided Virginia House. There are 68 Republican delegates and only 32 Democratic delegates. The next election is in 2015, and by then population growth will make some of the districts less safe for Republicans. In the meantime, Delegate Hope confided that Democrats have virtually no say in the chamber.
Delegate Hope represents about 80,000 people as a Virginia delegate, but this will grow to representing some 800,000 if he becomes a U.S. Representative. However, the road to the U.S. House from the Virginia House is long and expensive. First, there is the Democratic primary on June 10, with Delegate Hope facing 10 other Democrats. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will most likely win the election in November. Hope was asked by one of the students how much money he needed to raise for a Congressional seat, and he replied “about $550,000.”
Health care motivated Delegate Hope to run for the 8th U.S. House district in Virginia. His central concern is “to improve access and care for patients.” Delegate Hope leads community organizations dealing with aging and homelessness, and he is the Director for Legislative Policy at the American College of Cardiology. He firmly believes in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) and feels that he can help it succeed as a member of the U.S. House.
Hope’s geographic campaign strategy is to meet people throughout the district and raise money (in that order). In 2009 he won the Democratic primary by going door to door in the 47th district. Money was strictly secondary. In the 2009 primary Patrick Hope received almost twice the votes of his nearest competitor, while two of his competitors spent more than twice as much in their campaigns. He plans to capture most of the Arlington vote, while his competitors divide the Alexandria vote. His “Hope for Virginia” campaign may just take him from Richmond to Washington.