The Map: 2015 Virginia Senate Races

It’s the beginning of October, and campaign signs are popping up like flowers in spring. This is the sprint season for political campaigns, especially in Virginia where all 40 members of the State Senate and 100 members of the House of Delegates are up for election on November 3, 2015.

Whereas Democrats need to win an impossible 19 seats from Republicans to take control of the House of Delegates, they need to capture only 1 seat in the Virginia Senate to take back control that they lost in 2014. Currently, Republicans hold 21 seats and Democrats 19, and Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam could break a 20-20 tie.

The Senate districts were drawn in 2011 to protect incumbent senators, and so the majority of districts are safe for sitting senators. Most races are boringly predictable. However, there are a few districts where retiring senators created open seats—and some electoral excitement. Also, a handful of districts are unpredictable due to demographic changes, especially in urbanized areas, that have taken place since the 2011 redistricting. These exciting Senate district contests are shown in yellow on the map, with notes showing campaign funding based on the latest reports.

Major contests exist in 7 of Virginia's 40 Senate districts

Major contests exist in 7 of Virginia’s 40 Senate districts

District 6. Democratic Senator Lynwood Lewis is an incumbent in a Democratic-leaning district. He should win.
Prediction: Democratic hold

Sen. Frank Wagner (left) and Gary McCollum

Sen. Frank Wagner (left) and Gary McCollum

District 7. Republican Senator Frank Wagner represents an urbanized district favorable to Democrats that includes Virginia Beach and Norfolk and is almost a quarter African American. In September, Democratic challenger Gary McCollum suffered Republican attacks because he misstated his inactive Army Reserve status; then Senator Wagner generated outrage from the Virginia Black Caucus for the following quote at a fancy country club luncheon: “So it’s a very diverse district. I wish sometimes I represented this half, but I’m very, very happy to represent the folks I have.” Perhaps the candidate who makes no mistakes in October will win.
Prediction: Toss-up

Dan Gecker (left) and Glen Sturtevant

Dan Gecker (left) and Glen Sturtevant

District 10. Republicans will likely lose this open seat because demographic changes and voting trends favor Democrats.  Dan Gecker’s campaign needs high Democratic voter turnout in the Richmond area to offset Republican votes for Glen Sturtevant in the rural western part of the district.
Prediction: Democratic pickup

District 13. Republican Senator Dick Black is an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district. He should win.
Prediction: Republican hold

Kim Adkins (left) and Sen. Bill Stanley

Kim Adkins (left) and Sen. Bill Stanley

District 20. Republican Bill Stanley defeated the Democratic incumbent in the 2011 election by some 600 votes, getting only 46.8% of the total in this borderline Republican district. Senator Stanley is state chairman for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, which will have both a positive and negative impact on voters. Democrat Kim Adkins, former Martinsville mayor, may have a chance at an upset if the Democratic areas in and around Martinsville, Danville, and South Boston enjoy higher than average voter turnout on Election Day.
Prediction: Toss-up

Sen. John Edwards (left) and Nancy Dye

Sen. John Edwards (left) and Nancy Dye

District 21. The challenge to Democratic Senator John Edwards follows a Republican strategy of targeting Democrats in southwestern Virginia, where Republicans took Senate district 20 in 2011 and district 38 (west of district 21) in 2014. However, Senator Edwards should receive more than enough Democratic votes from the urban populations in Roanoke and Blacksburg to counter the rural Republican votes for opponent Nancy Dye east and west of Blacksburg.
Prediction: Democratic hold

Jeremy McPike (left) and Hal Parrish

Jeremy McPike (left) and Hal Parrish

District 29. Democrat Jeremy McPike should win this open seat due to demographics and voting patterns. Republican Hal Parrish, current Manassas mayor, is a strong candidate with lots of money, but the Democratic precincts of Dale City should overwhelm the rural and suburban Republican precincts in the west.
Prediction: Democratic hold

The Toss-ups in districts 7 and 20 should favor either the Republican or Democratic candidates by late October. The last time the Virginia Senate was elected in 2011, a Republican governor campaigned with his party’s candidates; but in 2015 a Democratic governor boosts Democrats (other active campaigners are Lt. Gov. Northam and Attorney General Herring). In any case, it looks like only a few races will determine control of the Virginia Senate come November 3.

David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, 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.