Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2011 Virginia General Assembly Elections - An Early Look


2011 Virginia General Assembly Elections - An Early Look
by: Johnny Longtorso
Wed Nov 17, 2010 at 10:19 PM EST
Source: Swing State Project

The 140 seats of Virginia's general assembly are all up in 2011. This will be one of the first post-redistricting elections in the country; redistricting will take place next spring in Virginia, and must be submitted to the Department of Justice for VRA pre-clearance. This will likely result in a compressed campaign season, as the composition of the maps will not be known until March or April, and they won't be approved until June or July. This is especially frustrating, as many legislative seats hang in the balance due to the explosive population growth in the Northern Virginia exurbs.

The Virginia Public Access Project has posted maps that estimate the current population variance of the existing legislative (and Congressional) maps. A quick look at the maps makes the population trends in Virginia readily apparent: the state is experiencing huge amounts of growth in the outer NoVa suburbs of Loudoun and Prince William Counties, as well as the more exurban parts south of Prince William (Culpeper, Fauquier, Spotsylvania, and Stafford Counties). The Richmond suburbs (Chesterfield and Henrico Counties and some of the more rural counties to the north) and outer Hampton Roads areas (Isle of Wight and York Counties and the city of Suffolk) are also experiencing growth, although not as significant.

This growth comes at a cost: the rural areas of Southwestern and Southside Virginia are taking a beating, as well as Richmond proper and the older, more urbanized cities of Hampton Roads (Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth). Even Northern Virginia is not immune to these trends: growth has stagnated in the inside-the-beltway areas of Alexandria, Arlington, and inner Faifax.

What does all this mean? The obvious answer is that reapportionment is going to draw seats away from these areas and towards the outer ring of D.C. suburbs and exurbs. In the short-term, this is likely going to hurt Democrats; although they had some success in these areas during the Bush administration, capped by Obama's double-digit wins in Loudoun and Prince William, the areas have swung back to the Republicans in the past couple years. The Democratic Party can't take these places for granted -- they're filled with fiscally conservative, socially moderate voters who have no problem voting for a Republican over a Democrat when it comes to pocketbook issues.

Having said all that, I'm now turning my attention to the State Senate, where Democrats hold a 22-18 edge. The Democrats will find defending all 22 seats a challenge; currently the map is maxed out for them, there are no realistic targets for picking up Republican seats. That may change in redistricting, but of course, I can't guess what the map will look like. For now, I'll run down the Democrats in the Senate that may be vulnerable in 2011, ranked from most vulnerable to least vulnerable. The district numbers are linked to VPAP's breakdown of each district by locality and statewide performance.

Johnny Longtorso :: 2011 Virginia General Assembly Elections - An Early Look

1. SD-01 (John Miller, elected in 2007) - In 2007, Miller beat a fairly nutty Republican who knocked off the popular, moderate incumbent in a primary. Sound familiar? As it stands, Miller's district is a pretty conservative one; although Kaine and Obama did come close to winning it, it includes the extremely Republican city of Poquoson and carves out the most Republican parts of Newport News. If I had to hazard a guess, the next map will likely trade out the York/Poquoson areas in exchange for the Newport News/Williamsburg portion of SD-03. Either way, Miller will be in for a tough fight next year.

2. SD-29 (Chuck Colgan, elected in 1975) - Colgan, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, may retire next year. At 84 years old, it would be hard to blame him. The district is one that on paper favors Republicans, being a swath of central Prince William County. However, Colgan's long tenure in office has helped him hold on, although his margins in recent elections have not been impressive: he won 55% in 2003 and 54% in 2007. Democrats might try to draw a better district, given that the 29th has to shed quite a few voters, but it will be tough to hold this one even if Colgan doesn't retire. Colgan hasn't raised a whole lot of money so far -- about $150k, with only $43k in the bank.

3. SD-17 (Edd Houck, elected in 1983) - Houck is one of the few "old guard" Democrats left. A 27-year veteran of the Senate, he chairs the Education and Health Committee, and represents a conservative district that spans from the sleepy, rural counties of Madison and Orange to the growing exurbs of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County. Houck has been facing decreasing margins of victory over the years; in 1999 he won 60%; in 2003, 59%; and in 2007, 56%, despite outspending his opponent nearly 3-1. With $300,000 in the bank, Houck seems likely to run for another term, but it will be a struggle. The district needs to shed voters, but I don't really see how it can be made much better for Houck; Fredericksburg is the only real Democratic bastion in the district. Regardless, Houck will be in for a fight next year.

4. SD-38 (Phil Puckett, elected in 1998) - Puckett is probably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, and it's not surprising to see why: he represents a chunk of Southwestern Virginia that has voted for exactly two statewide Democrats in the past six years, Creigh Deeds in 2005 and Mark Warner in 2008. Again, not to sound like a broken record, but this is a part of the state that is becoming extremely unfriendly to Democrats. Pucket hasn't had an opponent in the past two contests, which probably won't be the case this time. Of course, he could turn out to still be a safe bet, but given what has happened over the last two years in this part of the state, I wouldn't put money on it.

5. SD-20 (Roscoe Reynolds, elected in 1996)
- Reynolds is a conservative Democrat representing a swath of Southside Virginia that stretches from Martinsville to Wythe County. He has won handily in each of his three election contests, but this is an area that has been sharply trending away from the Democrats in the past few years. Not helping things is the fact that this district, like all of those in this part of the state, is going to have to expand in order to meet population requirements. I'm not sure what the districts in the area are going to look like next year, but if Republicans don't mount a strong challenge to Reynolds, they're missing a big opportunity.

6. SD-06 (Ralph Northam, elected in 2007)
- Northam easily defeated Republican Nick Rerras in 2007. He's a moderate Democrat with a great bio: he grew up on the Eastern Shore, went to VMI, and is a pediatric neurologist at CHKD. The district is split between the white parts of northern Norfolk and the Eastern Shore, and Northam has ties to both parts of the district. I don't expect this one to change that much, though it may have to expand east into SD-07 (which may benefit Northam, as there are some precincts in western Virginia Beach that are generally favorable to Dems). Northam is definitely favored for re-election, but as a freshman in a swing district, he should be watched carefully.

7. SD-33 (Mark Herring, elected in 2006)
- Herring picked this seat up in a special election in 2006, and though his margin slipped the next year, he still won by a double-digit margin. The concern, of course, is that Loudoun County has swung back to the Republicans in the past couple years, kicking out both of its Democratic Delegates in 2009. There are two good bits of news for Herring, though: first, the district is going to have to shed about half its voters, which means Democrats should be able to draw a much safer district. The other good news for Herring is the cast of characters running against him: Dick Black, a long-time embarrassment who lost his House seat in 2005, Patricia Phillips, who lost to Herring in 2007, and some guy who came in third for a Board of Supervisors seat in 2007.

8. SD-39 (George Barker, elected in 2007
) - Barker's district is located mostly in southern Fairfax with some of Prince William County. I don't think he should be in too much trouble, but I'm including him here because he's a freshman in a fairly swingy district, though the Democrats might be able to shore him up a bit.


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