For whatever reason, election numbers broken out by congressional district are still not available on the State Board of Elections website. Fortunately, David Nir at Daily Kos has crunched the numbers himself and come up with preliminary estimates for Virginia. Those are the numbers I’ve used for this graphic. Also note that this graph is the Democratic candidate’s performance in each district not in absolute terms, but relative to how President Obama did against Willard “Mitt” Romney in the district. Thus, if Obama won a district by 5 points, and the Democratic congressional candidate won it by 2 points, then the congressional candidate “underperformed” Obama by 3 points (5-2). It’s really not that complicated, but I think it will become crystal clear as I explain the results by CD.
1st CD: President Obama lost this district to Willard by 8 points (53%-45%), while Democratic congressional challenger Adam Cook lost his race to Rep. Rob Wittman by 15 points (56%-41%). Thus, Cook “underperformed” Obama by 7 points. What happened? I’d point to almost total lack of name recognition for Cook, plus a dearth of financial resources to get his name and message out there, plus not much use of social media. Still, I like Adam Cook and think he could be a strong candidate in the future, assuming he addresses those issues.
2nd CD: Barack Obama carried this district a narrow (50%-49%) margin, but much-touted Democratic challenger Paul Hirschbiel ended up losing to Rep. Scott Rigell by 8 points (54%-46%), meaning that Hirschbiel underperformed Obama by 9 points. Why? I’m not sure that it was money, so much as not having a particularly strong or clear message, not focusing on the grassroots, and not using social media. Also, gotta give credit to freshman Rep. Rigell, who appears fairly well ensconsed in this seat for a while.
3rd CD: Rep. Bobby Scott romped, actually overperforming Obama’s performance relative to Romney in this district. That’s probably a combination of Scott’s many strengths and a Republican opponent who had nothing particularly going for him (to be charitable).
4th CD: This is a fascinating district, held by an incumbent Republican Congressman (Randy Forbes), but in which Romney managed only a 50%-49% win over Obama. In contrast, Democratic congressional challenger Ella Ward lost the district by a whopping 14 points, thus underperforming Obama by a whopping 13 points. This seems like a district that we could, and should, do better in during future elections, but we’ll need a strong (well funded, focused, talented, etc.) candidate for sure.
5th CD: President Obama lost this district by 7 points (53%-46%), while Democratic challenger Gen. John Douglass lost his race against Rep. Robert Hurt by 12 points (55%-43%). Thus, Douglass underperformed Obama by 5 points. I’d point to three main factors: first, Douglass started off completely unknown in the district; second, Douglass initially was running in the 10th CD, but after redistricting was (finally!) completed he ended up in the 5th, meaning he had a relatively late start; and lastly Douglass was outspent significantly by Hurt. Add all that up, and you get the result we see here – despite the fact that Douglass ran an energetic, in many ways impressive, campaign. Bummer.
6th CD: This is a solidly red district with an entrenched incumbent (Rep. Bob Goodlatte), thus almost impossible for a Democrat to win. In this case, Andy Schmookler ran an energetic, spirited campaign, but he had basically no money to get his name or message out, which clearly is not good news for a first-time candidate (or any candidate). Also, Schmookler built a small grassroots following, but not the “ragtag army” he would have needed to make Goodlatte sweat at all. In the end, Schmookler lost by 30 points (65%-35%), while Obama lost the district by 20 points, so Schmookler underperformed Obama by 10 points. Sigh…
7th CD: Democratic challenger Wayne Powell lost by 17 point to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, but President Obama lost the district by 15 points. So, not much difference between the two, actually. This indicates to me that, all things considered, Powell’s campaign wasn’t a disaster or anything. Having said that, Powell’s strategy seemed to be to try and separate himself from President Obama, and clearly that did NOT work. If it had, then Powell should have OVERperformed Obama, but in the end, he underperformed Obama’s margin vs. Romney by 2 points. Meh.
8th CD: Rep. Jim Moran won easily (65%-31%) but underperformed Obama’s margin in the district by 3 points. That’s not terrible, especially considering the late-breaking scandal involving Moran’s son. On the other hand, Moran’s opponent was utterly pathetic, a horrible fit for the district. So, one COULD make the argument that Moran should have done better than he did. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, but it’s interesting to political junkies like me.
9th CD: Democratic challenger Anthony Flaccavento lost to Rep. Morgan Griffith by 22 points (61%-39%), but Flaccavento managed to outperform Obama’s performance in the district by 6 points, which isn’t bad. It will be interesting to see whether Flaccavento decides to give it another shot in 2014.
10th CD: On the one hand, Democratic challenger Kristin Cabral underperfomed Obama’s margin vs. Romney in this district by 17 points (note that Obama lost the 10th CD by 2 points). On the other hand, for whatever reason people in the 10th seem to loooooove them some Frank Wolf. Blech, I know, but it appears impossible to convince them otherwise. I’d also note that Obama won this district by 7 points in 2008, while Judy Feder lost it by 20 points, so Feder underperformed Obama by 27 points. So it’s all relative I suppose. Still, I wonder if Wolf’s lurch to the right in recent years is eroding his support a bit. Not enough to really hurt him, and he’s almost undoubtedly safe here until he retires, but still…we’ll take crumbs of encouragement at this point.
11th CD: Gerry Connolly neither underperformed nor overperformed Barack Obama’s showing vs. Mitt Romney in the 11th CD. Of course, Connolly was facing an unknown and underfunded opponent, so you could argue that Connolly actually should have overperformed, but I’d say that Connolly did ok, especially given that he was basically on cruise control in his safely-drawn, “incumbent protection” district.
P.S. See my analysis of social media efforts by Virginia Democratic 2012 congressional candidates. In short, there’s a TON of room for improvement in this area, and I’d argue that in this day and age it’s absolutely crucial, non-optional, etc. No way you’re going to win as a challenger just by the cookie-cutter “strategy” of raising money and saving it all for TV ads at the end. That’s a definitely #FAIL.