Virginia’s Purple Politics

Virginia elections and geography made for an energetic Post-Election Conference on November 5, which was organized by the NOVA Institute of Public Service. This conference discussed the results of Virginia’s November 3 election, and its implications for 2016. Below is my PowerPoint presentation, highlighting some of the geopolitical outcomes of this election with maps and graphics.

PostElectionNov5-2015 (click on this link for slides)

Explaining election results as Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Charniele Herring look on.

Explaining election results as Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Charniele Herring look on.

Both Virginia Republicans and Democrats can claim victories in this election, including:

  • Republicans kept control of the Virginia Senate by 1 seat.
  • Democrats gained 2 seats and lost 1 seat (all in Northern Virginia), giving them 34 seats and ending Republicans “veto-proof” majority in the House of Delegates.
  • Republicans held on to the Richmond area’s Senate District 10–barely–which was the best chance for a Democratic pickup.
  • Democratic State Senator John Edwards (District 21) won re-election by more than 8  percentage points in southwestern Virginia (a conservative stronghold) despite Republicans raising more money.
  • Republican State Senator Dick Black (District 13) won re-election to his Northern Virginia seat in the closest race for any Senate incumbent. Democrats note that he won by only 4.8% (52.2% to 47.5%) compared to 14.2% in 2011.

A record $43 million was spent by both political parties on Virginia Senate elections. However, all this money did not motivate most Virginians to vote. Voter turnout was only 29% of all registered voters, meaning that only 1.5 million out 5.2 million Virginians voted for candidates that will determine Virginia law. Public indifference to elections is often blamed on gerrymandered districts, whose contorted geographic shapes fail to create a sense of community but succeed in protecting incumbents.

A purple Virginia sums up the electoral geography. Republicans are favored in most local elections, but Democrats have won all statewide offices. Urban growth in Northern Virginia favors Democrats, but Republicans are more consistent and passionate voters. The 2016 Presidential election in Virginia should be interesting.

David B. Miller, Geography & Geopolitics Instructor, NVCC-Alexandria & Annandale

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator. Comments are welcome.

Delegate Patrick Hope Talks to Geography Class at NVCC Alexandria

Delegate Patrick Hope came to the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College to talk to Cultural Geography (Geo 210) classes on Wednesday, March 23. 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.

Patrick Hope talks to cultural geography class.

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.

Redistricting: added area in blue, deleted area in red, and retained area purple.

Redistricting: added area in blue, deleted area in red, and retained area purple.

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.

 

 

 

David B. Miller, Geography Instructor,
NVCC-AlexandriaScreen shot 2014-03-31 at 10.39.18 PM
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.