Virginia Redistricting: Ensuring Coastal Districts Stay Republican?

Today’s post, the fifth and final post in our series on Virginia redistricting, examines the tidewater 1st and 2nd Districts along Virginia’s coast.

1st District

The 1st District is bordered to the north by the suburban 10th and 11th Districts and to the southeast by the Potomac River and the the Chesapeake Bay.  At its western border, the 1st District runs along the 7th District and the 3rd District. As the district runs southward, it includes all of the Rappahanock River and most of the York River before ending North of Hampton and the James River. The district includes the cities of Fredericksburg, Williamsburg (including William and Mary College), part of Hampton, and part of Newport News. The district’s population is 74.5% white and 21.1% African American. The district has a population of 784,164, making it overpopulated by more than 56,000 people.*

Congressman Rob Wittman

While the district does have some Democratic leaning areas, it has continued to vote Republican. Republican Rob Wittman has represented the district since 2007 when he replaced deceased Republican Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis in a special election. Wittman won with 63.9% of the vote in 2010 and 56.6% in 2008; Davis had won with 63% of the vote in 2006 and 80% in 2004. Republican John McCain won the district with 51% in 2008. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell did very well in the district in 2009, although Democrat Creigh Deeds carried the city of Fredericksburg. In 2008, 2006, and 2005 Democrats demonstrated that they could win certain areas of the district. In 2008, Obama won the city of Fredericksburg, Westmoreland County, Caroline County, Essex County, King and Queen County, and the city of Williamburg. In 2006, Democratic Senator Jim Webb won the city of Fredericksburg, Caroline County, the city of Williamsburg, and Westmoreland County. In 2005, Democratic Governor Tim Kaine won the city of Fredericksburg, Caroline County, Westmoreland County, King and Queen County, and the city of Williamsburg.

How might the 1st District be redrawn?  Because the 1st District is currently overpopulated by more than 56,000 people it will need to shed population. One solution that Republicans would likely favor would expand the underpopulated 2nd District (detailed below) into the 1st District. The region that the 2nd District might acquire is the mostly Republican territory to the south; expanding the 2nd District into this area would help make it more solidly Republican. Alternatively, the adjacent Democratic 3rd District could be expanded into the 1st District to pick up the city of Williamsburg but, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the 3rd District needs to remain a majority African American district and is unlikely to move into the 1st any farther than Williamsburg. Most likely, the 1st District will remain Republican, despite containing several pockets of Democratic support.  Democrats are unlikely to try to make this district a top priority because they have other, more reasonable targets in the 2nd and 5th Districts.

2nd District

Virginia has a large eastern peninsula surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.  To the north, the peninsula connects to the state of Maryland; it does not geographically connect to the rest of Virginia. This peninsula–including Chincoteague Island and Cape Charles–makes up most of the territory of the 2nd District.  To the south, the district follows the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel to include the southeast corner of Virginia, including Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth’s most populous city. The district also includes parts of Norfolk and Hampton. The district’s population is 68% white and 22.2% African American. The district has a population of 634,015, which makes it underpopulated by more than 93,000 people.

The district has had close elections since 2004. In 2004 and 2006, Republican Congresswoman Thelma Drake won

Congressman Scott Rigell

reelection by small margins. In 2008, Barack Obama won the district with 50% of the vote, and Democrat Glenn Nye beat Drake with 52.4%. Republicans almost immediately began to target and attack Nye. Unlike some Democrats, Nye voted against major parts of the Democratic agenda, including the healthcare bill and cap and trade. However, Republicans recruited wealthy car dealer Scott Rigell to run against Nye in what quickly became an ugly race. Rigell spent over $4 million (including over $2.5 million of his own money) compared to Nye’s $2.2 million. Nye ran ads explaining that he had voted against controversial parts of the Democratic agenda, but Republicans ran an ad attacking Nye for lying about voting against the bailout of Wall Street (he hadn’t actually been in Congress in 2008 when that vote took place). Rigell ran an ad discussing how as a small businessman he knew how to create jobs and was against excessive government spending; however, Democrats ran ads calling Rigell a hypocrite because as a car deal he had benefited from the government cash for clunkers program. Late in the campaign, Republicans attacked Nye because he had said in 2008 that he would use his clout with Democratic leaders to keep an aircraft carrier in Norfolk (the Navy and Defense spending are very important to the Norfolk region’s economy) but had failed, costing the district thousands of jobs. In the end, Rigell won with 53.2% of the vote, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) already has Rigell on its list of seats to target in 2012.

How might the 2nd District be redrawn? This district is perhaps the most competitive in the state and Democrats would love to add Democratic voters to swing the district more Democratic. However, they have two problems. First, they only control the Senate and control of the redistricting process is split. Second, they will struggle to find a significant number of additional Democratic voters. Democrats could redraw the district to include all of Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton and easily flip the district Democratic. But significant portions of these cities are in the 3rd District.  The 3rd is also underpopulated and, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act, must remain majority African American.  Most African Americans in these cities are almost certain to remain in the 3rd District and cannot be added to the 2nd. Additionally, as mentioned yesterday in the post on the 3rd District, additional African American communities in the region (possibly in Chesapeake) that are not already a part of the 3rd District are likely to be added to the district to give it an ideally sized population while maintaining its 50%+ African American population. Yet, these cities are the largest Democratic bases in the region. If they cannot be added to the 2nd District, the district would have to be significantly redrawn to pick up additional Democratic voters in other regions. Republicans in the House of Delegates and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell simply will not let that happen.

One way or another, the 2nd District does need to pick up over 93,000 people. The district’s boundaries could be drawn farther to the west, into the 4th District, to pick up additional population, but Republicans will be careful not to draw it too far west because several of those counties voted for Obama in 2008. Republicans would likely instead prefer to draw the district to the north into the 1st District to pick up counties that vote solidly Republican.  As mentioned above, the 1st District is already overpopulated and may be drawn into one of the northern Virginia districts to help alleviate the overpopulation problem in that region. This solution would be ideal for Republicans (especially if the 1st is drawn into a Republican part of the 10th District) because the 1st District would remain Republican and the 2nd District would become a stronger Republican district. Democrats do have a say and would like to prevent that scenario. Republicans and Democrats could reach a compromise that would extend the 2nd to the west to pick up some Democratic voters and to the 1st to pick up more Republican voters to make the district remain competitive. Both sides are likely to fight over this district because it is possibly the most competitive in the state and because its underpopulation problem means it needs to be significantly redrawn.


As shown throughout this series, uneven population growth in Virginia has made two northern Virginia districts significantly over populated while many of the districts in the southern part of the state are underpopulated. Republicans control the majority of the districts in the state as well as the governor’s mansion and the House of Delegates. But Democrats control the Senate, giving them a voice in the redistricting process and preventing Republicans from drawing the districts at will. Based on pure population numbers, many southern districts and districts in the middle of the state will have to be drawn north to include more people. Unfortunately for Republicans, northern Virginia is a strong base of Democratic voters, which threatens Republicans’ ability to keep their current number of seats or add additional Republican seats.

Based on political and demographics characteristics of the state and specific districts, it is likely that the 9th, 6th, 7th, 1st, and 4th Districts will remain solid Republican after redistricting and the 8th and 3rd will remain solidly Democratic. The 10th District, currently represented by longtime Republican incumbent Frank Wolf, could be redrawn in several different ways because of its significant overpopulation problem. However, Republicans will likely keep the district Republican, at least as long as Wolf does not retire. When he retires, depending upon how the district is redrawn, it could become a swing district or could remain Republican. The 11th District, currently represented by Democrat Gerry Connolly, could hypothetically be redrawn to become more Republican, but Republicans would struggle to do that and keep the 10th District Republican. Additionally, Democrats will fight to keep the 11th Democratic, meaning that Connolly is likely safe. The 2nd and 5th Districts, both of which have flipped from Republican to Democrat to back to Republican over the past three cycles, are the most competitive in the state. Both parties will fight over how the districts are redrawn, and they could remain competitive in the future depending upon how they are drawn. Overall, Democrats and Republicans may realize that their number of seats in Congress is currently the best each party can do, and thus may make a deal that protects all eleven incumbents.

See Interactive Map of all Congressional Districts in Virginia

*This report uses the most up-to-date district-level population data available from the United States Census Bureau.  While the Census Bureau has released 2010 population data at the state level, it has not yet done so at the district level.  As a result, this report uses the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey data for district specific numbers.  The report assumes that the 2010 ideal population for Virginia’s congressional districts will be 727,365 (that is, the state’s official 2010 population divided by 11 districts).  This number is now official, but data on how much Virginia’s current congressional districts deviate from the 2010 ideal population is only an estimate because these numbers are based on 2009 data. More information on the American Community Survey from the Census Bureau.

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