Redistricting: The Overlooked Impact of Tuesday Night in Virginia

Most of the coverage of Tuesday’s elections in Virginia has focused on the Republican sweep of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General offices. The story has centered on the turnaround of statewide candidates from 2008 when Democrats Barack Obama and Mark Warner were victorious in Virginia to less than a year later when Republican Bob McDonnell won statewide by close to 20%. However, the overlooked aspects of Tuesday in Virginia were the results of the House of Delegates elections and—perhaps more importantly—their impact on Congressional redistricting in 2011.

Virginia has several Congressional seats that will likely be competitive in the near future. Republicans would like to beat freshman Tom Perriello (VA-05) who defeated incumbent Virgil Goode in 2008, freshman Glenn Nye (VA-02) who beat incumbent Thelma Drake in 2008, and freshman Gerry Connolly (VA-11) who beat Republican Keith Fimian in an open seat race in 2008. The Republicans would also like to beat conservative Rick Boucher (VA-09) in Southwest Virginia. To show how important Virginia is to Republicans going into the 2010 midterm elections, just hours after McDonnell won on Tuesday the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) released a statement detailing how Tuesday’s strong results for Republicans in Virginia showed that all four of these Democratic incumbents were beatable in 2010. Democrats have targeted Frank Wolf (VA-10) in Northern Virginia in 2006 and 2008 and will likely target him again. While all of these incumbents may have tough races in 2010 and possibly lose then, both parties want to control redistricting in 2011 so that they can redraw the lines to protect their incumbents for the next decade. They also want to control the process so they can force any remaining targets in the other party to have extremely tough reelections in 2012 after redistricting.

In Virginia, redistricting is done every ten years by the House of Delegates and the state Senate agreeing on a plan together that the Governor has the authority to veto. Going into Tuesday, Virginia Democrats were in a fairly strong position. They control the state Senate (not up for election in 2009). They controlled the Governor’s mansion (and its veto power over redistricting plans). Additionally, despite being in the minority in the House of Delegates (53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 Republican leaning Independents), with a strong night on Tuesday, the Democrats could have cut the Republican advantage in the House of Delegates and made compromise more likely.

Virginia Democrats now are in a very different position. McDonnell’s victory over Creigh Deeds means that the Democrats no longer have a veto or the threat of a veto in the redistricting process. McDonnell’s strong campaign appears to have had strong coattails for down ballot Republicans as Republicans won at least 7 (possibly 8) Democratic held seats in the 3rd, 23rd, 32nd, 34th, 51st, 67th, 83rd and possibly the 21st (Republican leads by 16 votes) districts while Democrats only won 2 Republican held seats in the 52nd and 93rd districts, meaning the Republicans netted 5 (possibly 6) seats. The House of Delegates is now 58 (59 with 21st district) Republicans, 39 Democrats, and 2 Republican leaning Independents. Republicans in the House of Delegates do not have to work with Democrats on redistricting and can lose several of their own members’ support without losing their majority. Virginia Democrats still have the advantage of controlling the state Senate. Tuesday diminished Virginia Democrats’ strength in the redistricting process in 2011 and will likely set up a very partisan (and unfortunately likely ugly) fight between the Republican House of Delegates and Governor and the Democratic state Senate. Additionally, Democratic incumbents Perriello, Nye, Connolly, and Boucher, even if they survive 2010, will likely face very competitive elections (in newly drawn districts) in 2012.

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