Virginia Redistricting: Protecting Incumbents Again?

Virginia’s 2011 redistricting will not produce ideal congressional districts for either Republicans or Democrats.  Unlike in 2001, when Republicans completely controlled the redistricting process, the Old Dominion’s government is now divided, with Republicans in control of the governor’s office and the House of Delegates and Democrats in control of the Senate.  As a consequence, neither party can ignore the desires of the other.

A solidly Republican state through the early 2000s, Virginia trended Democratic in 2006 and 2008 only to swing back strongly Republican in 2009 and 2010.  At the same time, very uneven population growth throughout the state requires that certain districts be significantly redrawn so that each district has a roughly equal population.  This series of articles will examine 2011 congressional redistricting in Virginia in detail, by looking at statewide demographic and political change, then analyzing each district to assess how it may be redrawn.

Virginia looked solidly Republican in 2004.  George W. Bush won Virginia with 54%, Virginia had two Republican Senators, and Virginia elected eight Republican members to the U.S. House of Representatives (in an eleven-member delegation).  But in 2005 Democrat Tim Kaine was elected Governor, and in 2006 Republican Senator George Allen–whom some had thought would be a 2008 Republican candidate for President–lost to Jim Webb by a few thousand votes. The Democratic trend continued in 2008 when Barack Obama won Virginia with 52.7% of the vote, Democrat Mark Warner replaced retiring Republican Senator John Warner with 65% of the vote, and Democrats won three Republican seats in the House.  Then the political momentum reversed again only a year later when Republican Bob McDonnell won the governor’s mansion with 59% of the vote.  The Republican momentum continued in 2010 as Republicans won three (and almost four) Democratic congressional seats.

Virginia maintained its eleven House seats under the 2010 Census. Going into 2011 redistricting, Democrats control the small (geographically) 8th and 11th districts in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. and the majority African American 3rd district in the Southeastern part of Virginia that includes Richmond, part of Newport News, and part of Norfolk. Republicans control eight out of the state’s eleven House seats, but three of those eight (2nd, 4th, and 10th) voted for Obama in 2008, and three of them (2nd, 5th, and 9th) were won by Democrats in 2008.

Demographically, the state as a whole grew by over 922,000 people (13%) over the past ten years, giving it a population of slightly over 8 million people. The Northern Virginia suburbs outside Washington D.C. (the more liberal part of the state) have grown very rapidly while the rest of the state grew more slowly. As a consequence, several districts in Northern Virginia are significantly over populated and more rural districts in the Southern part of the state are underpopulated.

Republican Governor Bob McDonnell

According to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, the state’s population is 70.4% white, 19.6% African American, and 7.2% Latino. The districts in the state are very diverse economically.  The rural 9th district in Southwest Virginia has a poverty rate of 18.1% and 1.0% of the population has a household income of over $200,000; the suburban 11th district in Northern Virginia has a poverty rate of 5.2% and 15.1% of households with incomes of over $200,000.

In Virginia, congressional redistricting is done legislatively; redistricting is done as a bill that both the House of Delegates and the Senate must pass, and that the governor can either sign or veto.  Because Virginia has state elections in 2011, redistricting has to be done earlier than in most states. The redistricting process will likely need to be completed mid year (in 2001 the legislature passed the congressional redistricting bill and the governor signed it July 19 after a special session of the legislature was called in the spring).

Some Virginia politicians (including 2009 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds) have tried to create a non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting system, but none has received significant support.  Republican Governor Bob McDonnell recently created an “Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission” for redistricting, but this commission’s recommendations are not binding (recommends plans). The commission allows McDonnell to say that he kept his campaign promise to encourage a bipartisan redistricting process.  Meanwhile, Democrats are worried that Republicans in the House of Delegates are trying to exclude them from redistricting so that they can draw the districts to benefit Republicans.  Democrats need not worry too much because, unlike in 2001, Democrats in 2011 control the Senate and can block any Republican bill that is too partisan.

Virginia's Congressional Districts

How will Virginia redistricting look in 2011?  In 2001, when Republicans controlled the entire process, they drew districts that protected incumbent members of the House on both sides of the aisle.  Six of Virginia’s members of Congress have been in Congress for a long time (the first elections for the new districts drawn in 2001 were the 2002 midterm elections): Jim Moran in the 8th district (since 1991), Randy Forbes in the 4th district (since 2001), Eric Cantor in the 7th district (since 2001), Bob Goodlatte in the 6th district (since 1993), Frank Wolf in the 10th district (since 1981), and Bobby Scott in the 3rd district (since 1993). Republicans would like to keep all of their current seats and pick up the 11th district, which they almost won in 2010.  Democrats would like to reclaim some of the seats that they lost in 2010 or redraw all three districts in Northern Virginia to be Democratic.  Yet, because neither party has complete control, neither can draw districts exactly how it wants.  A more likely possibility is that leaders of both parties will realize that they are unlikely to create a map that would give them more seats and will instead attempt to protect their current incumbents. The next several posts in this series will analyze the politics and demographics of each district in the state by geographic region.

See Interactive Map of all Congressional Districts in Virginia

Tomorrow’s post will look at the three Republican–and underpopulated–districts in Southwestern Virginia and how they may be redrawn in 2011.

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