The 2013 governor’s race is on in Virginia between Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli. As a cartographer, I was curious as to the geopolitical landscape of Virginia. I sought to define the regions of Virginia that favored either Democrats or Republicans.
Population Geography of Virginia Voters
To appreciate a map of election results, a quick review of population density in Virginia would be helpful. Almost one third of Virginia’s 8.1 million people, about 2.6 million, are in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County alone has more than 1.1 million. Next in importance is the Hampton Roads region, dominated by the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News, with some 1.7 million people. Finally, the state capital, Richmond, is at the center of the Greater Richmond metropolitan area, a region holding about 1.3 million people. Outside of these three regions, the rest of Virginia is mostly sparsely populated, with only about 30% of the state’s population and voters. In general, urban areas tend to favor Democrats, and rural areas gravitate toward Republicans.
The 2005 Virginia Governor’s Race
In 2005, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Tim Kaine (Democrat), ran against Virginia’s Attorney General, Jerry Kilgore (Republican). The map below shows the cities and counties won by Kaine in blue and the ones garnered by Kilgore in red.
Geographic Analysis of 2005 Election: The vote-rich counties and cities in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Greater Richmond were key to Tim Kaine’s victory. As the former mayor of Richmond, Kaine ran up the vote in Richmond, as well as in other Democratic urban strongholds, such as Alexandria, Arlington, and Norfolk. He also captured the traditionally Republican cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, along with the growing Northern Virginia suburban counties of Loudoun and Prince William. Kaine even did well in some rural counties of western Virginia.
Other 2005 Races: Despite Kaine’s victory, Republicans won the offices for lieutenant governor and attorney general. However, the attorney general’s race between Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell was very close, with McDonnell getting only 360 more votes than Deeds out of 1.9 million ballots.
The 2009 Virginia Governor’s Race
In 2009, the political geography of Virginia was decidedly redder, when Virginia’s Attorney General Bob McDonnell (Republican) ran against State Senator Creigh Deeds (Democrat) again—but this time for governor.
Geographic Analysis of 2009 Election: The mostly red Virginia in this election points to the geopolitical weaknesses of the Deeds’ campaign. Deeds was a rural Democrat from western Virginia, and he did not excite the Democratic urban base in Northern Virginia and elsewhere. This lack of excitement affected voter turnout, which was only 40.3% of the electorate—down from 44.9% in 2005. Also, McDonnell successfully campaigned as an effective and non-political attorney general throughout Virginia. McDonnell had represented Virginia Beach as a state senator, and his campaign gained votes in Virginia’s normally Democratic urban areas. Finally, many pundits noted that McDonnell won the fundraising race, with almost $24 million, compared to about $13 million for Deeds.
Other 2009 Races: It is important to note that Ken Cuccinelli, the current Republican candidate for governor, won his election for Virginia Attorney General in 2009. Cuccinelli prevailed in most counties, but he lost in Fairfax County, even though McDonnell won there. This is significant because Cuccinelli represented parts of Fairfax as a Virginia state senator.
The 2013 Race for Governor of Virginia: Setting the Stage
While far apart ideologically, Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli are close geographically, with both living in Northern Virginia. McAuliffe’s home is in Fairfax County and Cuccinelli resides in Prince William County. This guarantees that Northern Virginia will be a battleground for both campaigns.
The map below of Virginia sets the stage for the 2013 campaign by mapping the geopolitical landscape of Virginia, based on the seven statewide elections since 2005: two for Virginia governor (2005 and 2009); three for U.S. senator (2006, 2008, and 2012); and two presidential races (2008 and 2012).
In general, Northern Virginia has shown a recent tendency to support Democratic candidates, but in 2009 McDonnell captured everything, except for the Democratic strongholds of Arlington and Alexandria. The Hampton Roads region appears to tilt toward Democrats, except for Virginia Beach. The Richmond area possesses a Democratic city—but with many Republican suburbs. In any election strategy, Democrats will try to run up votes in Northern Virginia and take most of the Hampton Roads region, which would duplicate Kaine’s 2005 success. The Republican model would follow McDonnell’s 2009 triumph by holding most of rural Virginia, while targeting Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia. Republicans also need Virginia Beach in the Hampton Roads area, along with Henrico and Chesterfield counties in the Richmond region.
Who will win? It is way too early to say. The path to electoral victory seems to require more effort on the part of Republicans because recent statewide elections seem to favor Democrats—especially in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. However, the geopolitical landscape is just one factor in an election, others include the appeal of the candidates and the effectiveness of their respective campaigns. It is a long road to Election Day on November 5th, and both candidates have a lot of Virginia geography to cover.