Special Election for the 33rd State Senate Seat, January 21, 2014

The Washington Post blared on a January 20 header: “Outcome Could Decide Senate Control.” Of course, the Post is referring to the three-way race for the 33rd district between Democrat Jennifer Wexton, Republican John Whitbeck, and Independent candidate, and former Republican, Joe May.

This is shaping up to be a LARGE Democratic win. Why you may ask???

  • The 33rd district leans Democratic, as described in my 1 January blog.
  • Whitbeck and May will likely split the Republican vote.
  • As of 10 January, Wexton has raised $835,000 versus $259,000 for Whitbeck and $168,000 for May (see VPAP).
  • Perhaps the most telling sign of all is the overall low level of contributions from Republican Party groups to Whitbeck (see below).
  • The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus seems to lack faith in Whitbeck, who has received about $72,000. This pales in comparison to $578,000 given to Republican Wayne Coleman in his race for the 6th Senate district earlier this month.

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There is a wildcard factor—the forecast calls for snow on Election Day! Snow is expected to start at 9 am. We will see if this affects the election.

In any case, control of the Virginia State Senate does hang in the balance. Democrats must win the election for the 33rd district tomorrow, as well as the election recount for the 6th district.

locatorStateSenate Elections

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.

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.