Virginia Delegate Hope Comes to NVCC Alexandria

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.

Delegate Patrick Hope talks to Cultural Geography class.
Delegate Patrick Hope talks to Cultural Geography class.

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.

Virginia's 51st District is gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates.
Virginia’s 51st District is gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates.

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.

"Hope for Virginia" mascot
“Hope for Virginia” mascot

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.