Home Virginia Politics Twelve Days of Christmas for Virginia Democrats: Day Four, Silenced Downstate Democrats

Twelve Days of Christmas for Virginia Democrats: Day Four, Silenced Downstate Democrats

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( – promoted by lowkell)

This is the fourth part of a twelve part series looking at the challenges, obstacles, and future possibilities of Virginia Democrats. Day one focused on challenges facing Virginia Democrats in competitive districts, day two focused on problems with turnout. On day three, we were visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past to teach us the lessons of past campaign mistakes. Thank you for reading, please make sure you vote on the poll at the end!

On the fourth day of Christmas, the Commonwealth of Virginia gave to me…A Republican gerrymandering that has silenced Democratic voters downstate at the House of Delegates!

Wait, another post on gerrymandering? Lame!

Hold on, hear me out, this is about an aspect of Republican gerrymandering that has gone more unnoticed. As we know from day one, the Republican gerrymander isn’t the only problem facing Virginia Democrats in the House of Delegates. But the gerrymandering’s impact has negatively influenced Democratic recruits for higher office outside of Northern Virginia.

Before the redistricting, there were 38 delegate districts where Obama had received over 55% of the vote in 2008. I use this threshold because we saw how important it was in determining safe Democratic seats. After redistricting this was slashed down to 33 seats.

Republicans created one new 55% Obama district by moving the 2nd from Southwest Virginia to Northern Virginia. But the district’s Democratic voters were largely minority voters in Prince William and less likely to turnout in off-year elections. Though Democrats won it in 2013, it will be a difficult district to hold until demographics catch up. But if Futrell can hang on in 2015 I think he could be set for the rest of the decade.

Although they modified some districts, such as making Rust’s district a few points more Republican (which was crucial in keeping him in office this year), the big changes were the six over 55% seats where they significantly reduced Democratic performance, including five in Northern Virginia: the 51st (Anderson), the 42nd (Albo), the 31st (Lingamfelter), the 50th (Miller), and the 67th (LeMunyon).

In all of these, a 57 to 58% Obama district was brought down to 52% or 53%. That may not seem like a big difference, but look at how narrowly Republicans pulled out wins in 2013, a higher turnout electorate than what they’ll face going into 2015. This gets many incumbents to at least 2017, if not beyond, when another Republican gerrymandering may save them again. A smaller tweak was needed in the 32nd (Greason), which was just under 55% Obama to begin with but was brought down closer to 53% by redistricting.

And finally, as part of the unappreciated theme of the Republican redistricting, Paula Miller’s district in Hampton Roads was moved to an under 55% Obama district (in 2008) in Northern Virginia. Ramadan won the seat by 51 votes in 2011 and then 195 votes in 2013. Not only did Democrats lose a stronger Democratic seat, they lost the voice of a non-Northern Virginia Democrat to demonstrate the regional diversity of our party. Demographic trends have made it a more Democratic district, Obama was over 55% in 2012; Ramadan’s days are numbered. But who can fill in and replace Paula Miller as a voice in Hampton Roads?

With changes to the 12th around Blacksburg, the 14th around Danville, the 21st and 83rd in Virginia Beach, the 27th in Chesterfield, the 58th and 59th in Central Virginia, the 64th in Southside, and the 23rd in Lynchburg (and those are just some of the obvious examples!), the most competitive seats in Virginia outside of Northern Virginia were moved further away from Virginia Democrats.

The difficulties in recruiting downstate Democrats for the House of Delegates spreads to higher offices. Wagner and McWaters could be vulnerable in Virginia Beach, but the Republican gerrymandering prevents local up and coming Democrats from getting a foothold. Could we find a strong challenger to Bill Stanley if we had more competitive districts around Danville and Martinsville?

The number of Obama-won delegate seats dropped from 50 to 47. In 9 more he was over 48% in 2008 under the old lines, but this was reduced to just 5 in the new lines. While many seats in Northern Virginia remained competitive, downstate saw larger changes. Virginia Beach in particular was hit hard, denying Democrats the chance of having a stronger farm team for running for higher office in the State Senate, Congress, or statewide. The 58th and 59th, two districts in Central Virginia that include portions of Albemarle, were made safely Republican. As a result, Republicans have prevented a local politician from developing a strong reputation and posing a risk to Robert Hurt in the 5th District.

Democrats saw the pool of competitive seats shrink from 59 to 52 after redistricting. The route to a majority in the House of Delegates is still there, but it’s narrower and depends a lot more on competitive seats that Democrats have struggled to win. The net five-seat reduction in safe Democratic seats is a primary reason that the House Democrats have hit rock bottom. But fewer competitive seats downstate also reduces the farm team of good candidates for other elected offices, painting our party into a corner in Northern Virginia.  

It’s hard to say how independent redistricting could improve Democratic fortunes in the House of Delegates, but based on two proposals put forward during redistricting (one from a college team from the University of Richmond, the other from George Mason University), those maps would have created around 36 to 33 safe Democratic districts. The number of Obama won seats would have been around 45 seats, and over 48% in 53 to 58. Overall nonpartisan redistricting would produce small, marginal improvements over Republican gerrymandering for Democrats. The biggest impact would be a few more safe Democratic seats, and a larger playing field of potentially competitive seats, especially outside of Northern Virginia. As we’ve seen, Democrats still struggle in these competitive seats, so independent redistricting wouldn’t cure all problems. But by giving downstate communities more of a choice in our two-party system, wouldn’t the benefits exceed anything Democrats themselves gain?  

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  • FreeDem

    I’m surprised that the support for independent redistricting is so overwhelming here. I thought it would win, but that a few more would reject the idea.

    In 2011, the State Senate majority was worried that their hold onto the majority was very precarious, and that if they didn’t redistrict before the election they could be overwhelmed. Some believed that if they allowed courts to draw lines temporarily, that the new Republican majority in 2012 would come in and redraw the lines anyway (which they almost did!)

    The current crop of State Senate seats are more Democratic, with the downside of not having enough safe seats to get to 20.

    In 2021, the State Senate (the chamber we’re more likely to control) won’t be up. If we are in a rerun of 2011, I think that we should put more pressure on the State Senate to refuse to play. Courts or independent or nothing. But I don’t know if Saslaw would agree to this strategy.