( – promoted by lowkell)
The dust has settled over the Commonwealth after election day 2014, and Mark Warner will survive to serve out another six years in the Senate … assuming he stays that long. But there’s no end to campaigns in Virginia, which because of our odd-year election cycle hosts heated elections every calendar year. For instance, with newly elected Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, there will soon be a special election for the 34th House of Delegates district. Other special elections will be held in the 4th district (Southwest Virginia, to replace newly elected State Senator Ben Chafin) and the 63rd district (Petersburg, to replace newly elected State Senator Rosalyn Dance) — but don’t expect any surprises there. Here’s a preview of what to look forward to in Virginia politics.
34th House of Delegates Special Election
Let’s give a brief history of the 34th in the last few election cycles. In 2007, Republican incumbent Vince Callahan retired and the open seat was won in a good Democratic year by Margi Vanderhye. Margi had defeated Rip Sullivan in the Democratic primary (Rip is finally making his way to Richmond from the 48th District). I wonder if Rip’s pleased that he didn’t end up in the 34th, as in 2009 a Republican tsunami swept out Vanderhye by 422 votes.
When Vanderhye lost by the narrowest of margins, Bob McDonnell was winning the district with 53.47% of the vote. Vanderhye was able to run ahead of Creigh Deeds at the top of the ticket, but not by enough to win. With redistricting, Republicans padded Barbara Comstock’s margin by a few points, and she won reelection in 2011 by a 54.8%-45.1% margin over Pamela Danner. Comstock didn’t need the redistricting help then, but she certainly did in 2013, when she narrowly defeated Kathleen Murphy by only 422 votes.
Where have I seen that number before?!
In 2013, the statewide Democratic ticket was sweeping at the top in the 34th. Comstock had to run ahead of her conservative clown car nominees in order to sneak out a narrow victory. But unlike in 2009, she had built up enough of her own brand to swim against the tide.
We saw that again in 2014, as Comstock ran ahead of Gillespie in the 10th District by four percentage points. Mark Warner won 51% in the 34th District, better than Obama’s narrow 49.79% win in 2012, but behind Tim Kaine’s 53%. In her own district, Comstock ran ahead of Gillespie by seven percentage points. These are discouraging numbers for Democrats hoping to knock her off in 2016, as it indicates she may have the political skills to run ahead of the Republican Presidential nominee.
In the upcoming special election for Comstock’s House of Delegates seat, Democrats have a chance to pick up a House of Delegates seat that they must win if they ever want to retake the majority. The Democratic nominee will face a grueling calendar, having to run again in next fall’s state legislative elections. But I think the Democrats start with a solid floor in the special election. This district does not swing wildly back and forth; statewide Democrats (including Deeds) do better in minimizing drop-off here in low turnout odd years compared to other districts further out in the more diverse suburbs and exurbs. It also means that the district, unlike other parts of Northern Virginia, did not swing towards Obama as the electorate grew more diverse in 2012. It has a small but stubborn swing vote, the small pool of Romney-Kaine voters that may also explain Comstock’s ability to survive in 2013.
Demographics is not going to hand the 34th to Democrats. We have to win it on our own. It may be now or never for us.
Virginia’s Republican members of Congress are challenging the ruling which orders the state to redraw its Congressional lines and reverse the racial “packing” of minority voters into Bobby Scott’s 3rd District. A higher court may overturn the ruling, and there’s plenty of time for more mischief to occur.
What could happen is anyone’s guess. Unpacking the 3rd could spill over to the 1st, 2nd, and 4th, easily. Making the 4th a more diverse district would assist Democrats in taking out Randy Forbes, but others believe that if forced to redraw the lines the General Assembly Republicans are more likely to throw David Brat under the bus.
Drawing a metropolitan Richmond district, essentially recreating the old 3rd CD represented by Thomas Bliley before the 1990 redistricting, would create a sharply difference district today given trends in the area. The seat would vote Democratic in all but the worst years and be well over one third African American. State Senator Donald McEachin has been discussed as a likely candidate for Congress in the future, with or without this redistricting.
The problem for Virginia Republicans is that drawing the existing 3rd district as a more compact minority-majority district in Hampton Roads wouldn’t leave enough for both Rigell and Forbes. Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, their respective home territories, are too close and too isolated. Given the population centers, two Districts with fair minority representation seem likely: a Richmond-based one and a Hampton Roads-based one. Which one is the actual minority-majority district could depend on the balance of the white suburbs and who gets more of the Petersburg and Southside area. This blows open the 4th, and I haven’t seen a plan yet that doesn’t give Forbes a clear seat to run in… but I’ve been thinking about one (stay tuned!).
Right now, as the legal fight continues, Governor McAuliffe will have to decide if he wants to sign off on a Republican quick fix, or hold the line and veto anything that falls short of meeting certain benchmarks for transparency and fairness.
Democrats are backed into a corner, with few pickup opportunities in the State Senate. The 2014 election gives cause for concern, as low-turnout affairs in this political climate are mostly being won by Republicans. Democrats will need to seize on an issue to rally our base. Will it be Medicaid expansion?
There are only two Republican-held State Senate seats won by Obama in 2012: the 7th (Wagner, Virginia Beach) and the 10th (Watkins, Richmond suburbs). Obama narrowly lost in the 13th (Black, Loudoun and Prince William), the 17th (Reeves, Spotsylvania and Central Virginia) and the 20th (Stanley, Danville and Southside Virginia). Tim Kaine narrowly won in the 17th. It is hard to see justification for competing in seats beyond this handful, and even then they are arguably a real reach.
With limited opportunities for offense, Democrats will be playing defense in several seats: the 1st (Newport News) and the 33rd (Loudoun) in particular. Strong turnout by Miller and Wexton could assist the House of Delegate candidates in at least four winnable seats in the fall.
2016 and Beyond
The odds of Mark Warner ever becoming more than just the Senior Senator from Virginia dipped significantly after his electoral scare. But with Tim Kaine near the top of everyone’s short list for VP, or a cabinet position, Governor McAuliffe may be be given the opportunity to appoint a new Senator sometime in 2016 or 2017. While this could avoid a bruising Ralph Northam-Mark Herring primary fight for governor in 2017, something tells me that the political forces are going to work behind the scenes to resolve the line of succession before it comes to that. Northam in particular should be worrying about Herring’s higher visibility in the key fights in the Commonwealth. I think McAuliffe may look elsewhere for a Senate appointment…