Why Bob Marshall should be the Top Target in ’13 & House Preview

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    Hello All,

    This is my first diary here but I have been following the blog since the Raising Kaine days when I was in college. I’m somewhat of a political junkie and find crunching the numbers very interesting.

    I had a bit of a debate with a fellow reader on who should be targeted in the House of Delegates races next year. I am most familiar with Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, and Richmond, so I will focus on those areas.

    Conventional wisdom seems to be that the closest in seats to DC and urban areas should be the top targets. No longer. After watching millions of dollars being poured in to certain seats and coming up short in recent years I think it is time to try a new approach.

    Also, I think many folks do not realize the numbers do not actually support the conventional wisdom.

    Bob Marshall, who I find to be a particularly harmful legislator, now represents a district (13th) that went for Obama by 11 points.

    I have heard the argument that we shouldn’t take on Bob Marshall because we have to focus on people like Barbara Comstock (34th) and Dave Albo (42nd) who are closer in. Well, there’s a new map and Comstock represents a district that voted for Obama by just 3 points and Obama won by just 5 points in Albo’s.

    Keep reading below if this stuff interests you and to see my list of top targets for 2013.

    One thing I have been frustrated by is people saying Tom Rust (86th) should be the top target because of his district. We have tried that for several cycles and that hasn’t worked. The fact is he is a pretty good delegate and people like him (that’s why Democrats keep voting for him). Please don’t hate me for saying that.

    Bob Marshall on the other hand is absolutely terrible and his district is not that much more Republican. From what I can tell he hasn’t been a top priority for defeat and that is baffling to me. The guy is actually getting crazy legislation through the House.

    Marshall is not alone in that he represents a district that is winnable in the exurbs but hasn’t been targeted recently. There are several that are represented by the extremely conservative Republican ideologue type that range from marginally republican to slightly Democratic.

    I have looked at the data for all of the House districts and there isn’t any low hanging fruit. Let’s give a few new races a shot in 2013. Keep in mind these are some of the people most dedicated to embarrassing Virginia.

    Here is my list including Obama performance for each district:

    1) Bob Marshall (13th) Obama +11!

    2) Mark Dudenhefer (2nd) Obama +15

    3) Joseph Yost (12th) Obama +10

    4) David Ramadan (87th) Obama  +9

    5) Scott Lingamfelter (31st) Obama +5

    Of course there are others but these are the top 5 to me at this point. Yes we can target the usual suspects as well, but only focusing on them has not worked out well in the past.

    Of course, I am open to a debate on this matter.  

    • FreeDem

      First, I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s perfectly fine for the discussion to start with Northern Virginia. Not just because it’s an area that some at Blue Virginia know, but because redistricting shifted the playing field for Democrats significantly toward Northern Virginia.

      The Republican gerrymandering closed many doors downstate. Depending on how far you go to define a competitive district, close to 7 downstate districts were gerrymandered or eliminated in order to help the GOP. A few newer, competitive districts were drawn in Northern Virginia, but the net effect is still around four fewer competitive districts for Democrats, but four more Northern Virginia districts in play.

      Other than the 12th around Blacksburg and the 93rd around Williamsburg, both strongly Obama leaning and including large college communities, it’s hard for me to see any non-Northern Virginia seats worth prioritizing down, instead of down the road. The only exception, which I may touch on, is Tata’s open seat in Virginia Beach.

    • FreeDem

      Here’s my observation on Rust.

      As you note, it is one of the most Democratic-leaning district still occupied by a Republican.

      I can see an argument that all of the money spend previously, such as Miller in 2009, shows that Rust just cannot be defeated.

      I can see the argument for his popularity, but I don’t think it is overwhelming. He ran 3% ahead of Bob McDonnell in 2009 in what was the worst year for Virginia Democrats in recent memory.

      A winning statewide ticket would expect to be getting in the highs 50s in his district. Even a statewide ticket collapsing could expect to win the district, or come close.

      In a close statewide race, I can see Rust’s personal appeal helping him through. I cannot see it making the difference if our top of the ticket is over 55%.

      We have not been able to challenge Rust in years in which we had statewide races pushing up turnout, instead of depressing it.

      Finally, 20% of the Voting Age Population in his district is Asian-American, and Herndon has one of the largest concentration of Indian-Americans in the DC area. Indian-Americans are also the most Democratic-leaning of Asian-American communities, if we can mobilize them. I think Chopra on the ticket can help us overcome the difficult challenge of mobilizing the key constituencies of the Obama coalition in an off year. For that reason I would further prioritize the competitive Northern Virginia seats that contain Indian-American and other Asian-American communities.

    • FreeDem

      My concern about Marshall’s district is turnout.

      The 13th had one of the sharpest declines in Democratic performance from 2008 to 2009, well worse than the statewide average. It has one of the largest Hispanic populations among the Northern Virginia seats and I think a large portion of the decline can be attributed to turnout.

      I have my hopes that the statewide ticket next year understands the importance of turnout with the Obama coalition, but it seems to be a pretty big either/or scenario. Either we get the turnout we need to fundamentally change the district and we will win, or we don’t. There’s no close call here.

      This is a problem with several other districts (2, 87, 32). It’s a question though of how best to overcome this challenge, and I don’t think there’s a one size fits all solution.

      I would note that this district is changing very quickly demographically and it is only a matter of time before we take it back. To me the question is when.

    • FreeDem

      Here’s my thought for 2013:

      12th (Yost), 93rd (Watson): A Gubernatorial year is the closest we’ll get to Presidential level turnout, which is crucial for assembling a Democratic coalition in these two districts with college communities.

      In the 12th, you probably need a balance between a more rural Warner style Democrat with someone who can still motivate college students. Deeds ran better than expected here given how badly he lost statewide, but it may not just have been about Deeds as the rest of the ticket did well. It was also one of the districts where Warner ran most ahead of Obama.

      86th (Rust): As I’ve said, a successful Democratic ticket will be winning this seat in a landslide, and I think it will be too much for Rust to handle.

      2nd (Dudenhefer), 34th (Comstock), 67th (LeMunyon), 42nd (Albo), 87th (Ramadan), 13th (Marshall), 31st (Lingamfelter, especially if open), and 32nd (Greason): These are the Northern Virginia seats that I see, right now, being most in reach. I’m worried about the trends in some (34th and 32nd) and I think the results from the fall should impact which ones wind up on the list.

      21st (Villanueva), and 85th (Tata, Open): Both of these districts are far more of a reach. They lean Republican and even in a historic year Obama didn’t carry the 85th and only narrowly carried the 21st. I wouldn’t include the 85th except for it being open; we have a much better track record picking up open seats than knocking off incumbents. They also may look more Republican than they really are because of Bob McDonnell being on the ticket. Local Jody Wagner run 6% ahead of Deeds in each, and Shannon ran 4% behind her. They are probably the only seats, other than the two already mentioned, outside of Northern Virginia that may be worth seriously contesting … unfortunately.

    • FreeDem

      One more post on where Virginia Democrats are in the House of Delegates: backed into a corner.

      Obama won 53% of the vote statewide, but under the Republican gerrymandering would have only won 47 House seats, several by only the narrowest of margins.

      Doing some back of the envelope calculations, if you had a 50-50 statewide election and looked at how the districts leaned in voting for Obama in 2008, Obama would win only 41 seats, just showing how shallow his margins are in several of the districts he won.

      The seats aren’t surprising. In addition to the ones already held by the Democratic caucus (except Johnson in the 4th) they are the two non-Nova seats I’ve discussed (12th and 93rd) they are all Northern Virginia seats.

      Maybe this is just because of Obama’s strong tilt toward Northern Virginia’s growing minority population and affluent liberal college educated voters?

      Doing the same calculations for Mark Warner from his 2008 run (assuming a 50-50 statewide election, you could call this the WPI-Warner Performance Index) the picture is pretty similar: 37 seats, mainly because Warner doesn’t perform as strongly in the Northern Virginia suburbs: 13th, 87th, 67th, 31st, 50th and 32nd. He picks up the 16th and 14th, two districts that are at the heart of Warner’s appeal to rural Virginia. He’d be competitive in others, but not over 50% anywhere else.

      Maybe Warner has a unique appeal that can’t be utilized by other Democrats, but what about another “generic” rural Democrat? Looking at Deeds (Deeds Country Index?) we again see a similar picture: 39 districts, nothing unusual like Warner’s win in Southside. Deeds does “better” than Obama’s lean in rural areas, but not enough to win in this scenario.

      Right now we’re stuck with the Democratic-leaning districts all in a corner: Northern Virginia.

      If you want to look at the Republican-leaning districts that could be competitive and may trend our way outside of Northern Virginia:

      Obama Index- 21st (Virginia Beach), 94th (Peninsula), 14th (Danville), and 84th (Virginia Beach).

      Deeds Index- 21st (Virginia Beach), 14th (Danville), 94th (Peninsula), 60th (Southside), 19th (Bedford), 24th (Valley), and 83rd (Virginia Beach).

      Warner Index: 21st (Virginia Beach), 7th (Southwest), 94th (Peninsula), 60th (Southside), 85th (Virginia Beach), 83rd (Virginia Beach) 84th (Virginia Beach), 9th (Franklin-Henry-Patrick Counties), 68th (Richmond), 99th (Northern Neck), 3rd (Southwest), 4th (Southwest), 28th (Fredericksburg), 59th (Central Virginia), 73rd (Richmond), 54th (Spotsylvania), 1st (Southwest), and 8th (Roanoke).

      So Warner’s lower performance in the Northern Virginia suburbs is balanced by better performance across the downstate, but not enough to win the districts. Still worth noting he runs strong there … and the two most recent statewide Democrats did not.

      The areas and districts that stand out cluster in Virginia Beach, the 94th on the Peninsula, and the 14th in Danville. Discounting some of the odd Deeds impact near his district, and Warner’s special appeal in the rest of the state, future Democratic opportunities seem confined to the Hampton Roads area … and maybe Danville.

    • FreeDem

      We may disagree with the relative importance of a few Northern Virginia districts, but I don’t think we have any major disagreements about the major playing field for Democrats in 2013: Northern Virginia, with a few potential pickups in Blacksburg, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach and maybe (maybe!) Southside around Danville.

      That’s worth pointing out.  

    • Paba

      I’ve lived in (roughly) 3 of the areas discussed here (SW, Nova, and Southside, though it was technically on the NC side of the border) and worked on campaigns in 2 of those places, so here’s my cursory glance.

      – Everyone is mentioning the possibility of the 12th around Blacksburg, but don’t forget that this is a very different district now. It used to be rooted in BBurg and extended as far north as Deed’s own senate district. That’s why it ran far ahead of the avg Deeds outcome. Now it’s Blacksburg and the surrounding environs of Giles and Montgomery. Don’t underestimate the hatred a lot of locals have for Blacksburg and its town council. Giles and some Mont. residents would have had a Wal Mart much closer to them than Christiansburg had it not been for Don Langrehr. He was probably the worst sort of candidate to win that district. We need someone who isn’t a product of the Blacksburg bubble, but also a decent generic Dem for VA. Also, VT isn’t UVa as far as having a politically active student body. That said, it was a very close race and a good Dem pulling the top of the ticket should be enough to put over a generic Dem in an area that went 52-48 GOP in 2011 and will probably vote Obama this time due to Radford and Blacksburg.

      – What about the Danville area’s behavior in recent gov. elections leads you to think that it’s possible? I’m just curious if someone knows something I don’t The uranium issue could be tied to the entire GOP ticket, I suppose.

      – The GOP seats in Nova are all in areas with large housing differences between GOPers and Dems. These areas have a lot of wealthier voters who are GOPers and own houses. The Dems in these districts largely rent and live in apartments/townouses (Reston, Centerville, Chantilly, etc). Anyone who’s done voter outreach in Nova knows what this means. This is why it’s hard to reach them and get them out, much less recruit someone good to run. This point was relayed to be by no less than a current member of the HOD.

      Honestly, none of this matters if we don’t have a compelling ticket that seems genuinely interested in the future of VA to contrast with Cooch’s obvious eye towards national fame. I for one doubt that someone whose company chose to forego GOP-led VA to build factories in GOP-led Mississippi and who’s best known as a national political operative (no matter how well he’s schmoozed the DPVA faithful into thinking he can walk on water, if only just the Dem faithful voted!) can make that case against as cunning a pol as Cooch.