Virginia Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) is absolutely right that Virginia should be the first Democratic primary contest – not Iowa or New Hampshire, obviously. Here are 10 reasons why:
- As Del. Jones notes, Virginia is “large.” But, I’d argue, it’s actually not *too* large, either in geographic area or in population. We’re talking about 8.5 million people, ranking Virginia as the 12th-largest state in terms of population, but unlike California (40 million), Texas (30 million), Florida (21 million), New York (19 million), etc., it’s relatively manageable if you want to do “retail politics.” In comparison, Iowa has 3.2 million people, which is obviously smaller than Virginia, but not orders of magnitude smaller by any means.
- In terms of getting around and meeting voters, Virginia is actually pretty compact…the 35th-largest state in terms of area (much smaller than Iowa), with a population that’s heavily concentrated in the “urban-suburban crescent” running from Hampton Roads to Richmond to Northern Virginia. Which means that presidential candidates can reach a large percentage of Virginia’s population pretty easily…just watch out for the traffic, of course. 😉
- As Del. Jones notes, Virginia is diverse – far, far more so than Iowa or New Hampshire! In fact, according to this post at Governing Magazine, the percentage of non-Hispanic Whites in Virginia is 61.7%, ranking as the 17th most diverse state (including DC) in the country, and FAR more diverse than Iowa (85.9% non-Hispanic White) and New Hampshire (90.3% non-Hispanic White). Also, Virginia looks *very* much like America, which is about 60% non-Hispanic White overall.
- As Del. Jones points out, Virginia is both urban and rural. I’d add that it’s also suburban and “exurban.” Basically, Virginia has it all – highly urban areas like Virginia Beach, Richmond, Alexandria, Arlington, etc. – as well as huge suburban counties like Fairfax, Henrico, etc. – and suburban/exurban places like Loudoun, Chesterfield, Stafford, etc., PLUS large swaths of rural areas, including Appalachia, the Shenandoah, etc. In short – yet again, Virginia is very much a microcosm of America. Or, as Del. Jones correctly puts it, Virginia is “a place where candidates don’t just have to speak to a single constituency.”
- Virginia is roughly in the middle of the pack when it comes to median age, which is 38.2 – significantly younger than New Hampshire (43.1) and almost identical to the U.S. overall (38.1).
- In terms of per capita income, Virginia ($51,736) is slightly about the U.S. average ($50,577), so yet again, Virginia looks very much like America. Virginia also has a wide distribution of per capita income levels, from very wealthy Northern Virginia to relatively poor Southside and Southwestern Virginia, with everything in between. Yet again…Virginia very much reflects America as a whole.
- One area in which Virginia ranks higher than the national average is in educational attainment, with 37.6% holding a Bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 30.9% in the U.S as a whole. Virginia ranks slightly higher than New Hampshire (36.0%) and much higher than Iowa (27.7%). I’m not sure if Virginia’s somewhat higher educational attainment level is an argument for or against putting Virginia first in the Democratic primary order, but I’d argue that having educated people is certainly not a bad thing.
- Virginia has a rich, complicated history that very much reflects the American experience. That includes Virginia moving from a “Deep South” state, the former “capital of the Confederacy” and home of the disgraceful “Massive Resistance” against school desegregation, to today’s diverse, politically competitive (“purple” trending “blue”) mid-Atlantic state. That sure seems like the kind of place which Democrats might want to listen to in selecting our presidential nominee.
- Virginia’s location near the nation’s capital seems appropriate for choosing the next president, but it’s important to point out that vast swaths of Virginia aren’t right next door to DC, but instead are closer to Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee.
- Finally, in terms of how expensive Virginia is to reach voters, there’s no doubt that the DC Metro media market is pricey, but as this article reports, the cost per vote in areas further away from D.C., such as the Roanoke-Lynchburg, Hampton Roads and Richmond-Petersburg media markets, is much lower than in the D.C. media market. And, of course, many other states that might be considered as the first Democratic primary state also have expensive media markets, so I’m not sure this one makes much of a difference.
Bottom line: Del. Jay Jones is absolutely right – Virginia should be strongly considered as a replacement for Iowa and New Hampshire as the first Democratic presidential nominating contest, starting in the 2024 presidential cycle. If someone can come up with a better – more diverse, representative, competitive, large (but not TOO large), etc. – state than Virginia, I’d love to hear it, but I’m skeptical that anyone will be able to do so.
P.S. It should go without saying that Virginia should/would use a primary, NOT a ridiculous caucus. I’d also hope that Virginia would use Ranked Choice Voting.