Virginia Redistricting: Strengthening Republican Districts in the Southwest

The second in our series on congressional redistricting in Virginia, today’s post will examine the 5th, 6th, and 9th Congressional Districts in the state’s southwestern region.

9th District

The 9th Congressional District is the western most district in Virginia and borders four other states–North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia.  The district includes the southern portion of the Interstate 81 corridor but ends before the interstate passes near the cities of Salem and Roanoke.  To the east, the district follows the North Carolina border before carefully avoiding the city of Martinsville.  It then runs north until it hits the 6th District to the west of Roanoke, then juts east to pick up the mountainous region on the border of West Virginia before ending near Interstate 64.  The district includes the cities of Bristol, Abingdon, Marion, Wytheville, and Blacksburg (home of Virginia Tech University)–all located on or near Interstate 81.  Despite its large geographic area, this mountainous, rural district is underpopulated by approximately 79,000 people.*  The district’s population of over 648,000 is relatively homogeneous ethnically, as 92.9% of the population is white.  As mentioned in the introduction to this series, the 9th District’s population is fairly poor–over 18% live below the federal poverty line.

Congressman Morgan Griffith

While Virginia’s 9th District is conservative, for many years it sent a Democrat to Congress.  Conservative Democrat Rick Boucher was first elected in 1983 and usually did not face tough Republican opposition (in 2008 he ran unopposed).  However, in 2008 the district voted 59% for John McCain, making Boucher an obvious target for the GOP.  Republicans recruited Morgan Griffith, the Majority Leader of the Virginia House of Delegates, to run against Boucher in 2010.  The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spent heavily in the race, attacking Boucher for voting for the stimulus and bailouts, and for supporting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Boucher spent over $3.2 million to defend the seat (compared to Griffith’s less than $1 million) but lost 46.4% to 51.2%.

How might the 9th District be redrawn in 2011?  The district needs to add more than 79,000 people, but Republicans would like to make sure that it stays solidly Republican for the next ten years.  Logically, Republicans would want the district to avoid cities like Roanoke (which gave Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds 52% of the vote in a very Republican year).  However, Griffith’s old state legislative district included the city of Salem (a western suburb of Roanoke) and parts of Roanoke County, and he will want to incorporate this base into his new congressional district.  Republicans likely will want to expand the district to the east to include Salem and parts of Roanoke (although likely avoiding the latter city’s most liberal precincts).  As defined by the Census Bureau, the Roanoke Metropolitan area includes almost 300,000 people, so the district can easily pick up the people it needs.  Republicans will try to draw lines that will discourage Boucher from trying to reclaim his old seat (as he has proven that he can win in the current district).  Republicans will struggle to draw Boucher’s residence out of the district, as he lives in Abingdon, near the Tennessee border in the geographic center of the district.  While Republicans will try to make the 9th District safe for Griffith, Democrats in the Virginia Senate will likely prevent them from making it much more Republican.  The district is already conservative–in addition to supporting McCain over President Obama, it has a Partisan Voting Index of +11 Republican from the Cook Political Report.  Virginia’s 9th Congressional District should stay solidly Republican in the future, especially as long as Griffith continues to represent it.

6th District

Virginia’s 6th Congressional District follows the Interstate 81 corridor from southwest of Roanoke to the northeast until the point near Front Royal where I-81 hits I-66.  To the west, the district borders West Virginia.  To the east, it stays fairly close to I-81 except when it juts out to include the city of Lynchburg and further north when it approaches (but avoids) Charlottesville.   Like the 9th District, most of the 6th District is rural and mountainous.  It includes the cities of Roanoke, Lynchburg, Staunton, Lexington, and Harrisonburg.  Also like the 9th District, the 6th is fairly homogeneous ethnically as the population is 85.5% white.  The district has a population estimated at 696,178, making it underpopulated by approximately 31,000 people.

The district is solidly Republican.  GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte has represented the district since 1993. In

Congressman Bob Goodlatte

2010 Goodlatte did not have a Democratic challenger (in 2008 he won with 62% of the vote).  John McCain won the district with 57% of the vote, and the Cook Political Report has given the district a Republican +12 Partisan Voting Index.  In the 2009 gubernatorial race, among 6th District communities, only Roanoke city, Bath County, and Alleghany County (partially in the district) voted for Democrat Creigh Deeds.  President Obama did slightly better in the district in 2008 than did Deeds in 2009, but the district has voted solidly Republican for years.

How might the district change in 2011?  First of all, it needs to pick up approximately 30,000 people.  The most logical solution would be to expand the district either directly north following I-81 or west along I-66 into the significantly overpopulated Republican 10th district.  The 6th District could be expanded almost anywhere to the east to pick up additional population; however, the 5th District to the east is underpopulated, and the 7th District is only slightly overpopulated, making it most likely that the 6th will expand into the overpopulated 10th District.  If the 9th District is expanded into the Roanoke area (as mentioned above as a likely possibility), the lines will have to be carefully drawn because the 6th District’s incumbent (Goodlatte) lives in Roanoke and will not want to have his  residence removed from his district.  Democrats are unlikely to object to how the 6th District is redrawn because it is already solidly Republican.

5th District

Virginia’s 5th Congressional District is near the middle of the state, to the east of both the 9th and 6th Districts.  It follows the North Carolina border from the edge of the 9th District until it runs into the 4th District west of Interstate 95.  On its western side, the district borders the 9th and then the 6th District, running north until it ends north of Charlottsville.  To the east, the 5th District borders the 4th and 7th Districts.  It includes the cities of Martinsville and Dansville in the south and Charlottesville–home of the University of Virginia–in the north; it also includes Appomattox, where the Civil War ended.  The district has a population of over 668,450 and is underpopulated by more than 58,000 people.  The district is more ethnically diverse than its neighbors with a white population of approximately 73.9% and an African American population of approximately 22.6%.

Congressman Robert Hurt

The 5th District is one of the more moderate in the state, and party control over the seat has changed several times over the last ten years.  These changes can be seen in the career of Virgil Goode, the district’s representative from 1997 until 2008.  During the 2000s Goode shifted his party affiliation from Democrat to Independent to Republican.  Goode usually won easily:  he received 64% of the vote in 2004 and 59% in 2006.  But in 2008 Tom Perriello attacked Goode for being in Washington for too long and for his ties to lobbyists as well as a “culture of corruption.”  Goode spent $1.9 million and Perriello spent $1.8 million in the campaign.  Republicans attacked Perriello as being too liberal for the district and as a “New York lawyer.” Nevertheless, Perriello beat Goode with 50.1%, even though McCain won the district with 51%.  Although Perriello barely won in a moderate district, he strongly supported the Democratic agenda–even its most controversial elements.  The NRCC attacked Perriello for voting for the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care reform.  Republicans recruited Robert Hurt, a Virginia State Senator (and former three term member of the House of Delegates) to challenge Perriello.  Perriello outspent Hurt $3.7 million to Hurt’s $2.4 million.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) gave Perriello support and ran ads (including the cleverly titled “Working Families Just Get Hurt”) attacking Hurt for his opposition to raising the minimum wage and for his votes to increase taxes.  The Friday before the midterm election, President Obama came and campaigned for Perriello–Obama’s only campaign event for an individual member of Congress.  Some saw this as a strange campaign move considering the president’s relative unpopularity in the district in 2010.  In any event, Hurt defeated Perriello 50.8% to 47.1%.

Overall, the district is competitive–in the 2009 governor’s race, Republican Bob McDonnell won almost the entire district except Charlottesville and Martinsville while in the 2008 presidential race, Obama won the counties to the south of Charlottesville, the city of Danville and Brunswick County. In 2005, Democratic Governor Tim Kaine had similar success in the district.

How might the 5th District be redrawn?  The district’s lines need to be shifted to add approximately 60,000 residents, and the parties will likely fight over how to do so because this is highly competitive political terrain.  If Democrats could redraw the district according to their preferences, they might extend it slightly to the west to include the city of Lynchburg, which sometimes votes Democratic, as in the 2005 gubernatorial election.  Alternatively, Democrats might want to extend the district’s lines to the east to include either Sussex County or Greensville County on the North Carolina line, as both areas voted strongly for Obama in 2008.  Conversely, if Republicans could redraw the map according to their preferences, they might extend the district to the north through the current 7th District and into the overpopulated and Republican 10th District.  Redrawing the 5th District in this way would cause it to extend nearly the entire length of the state from north to south, but would make it solidly Republican and help the Republican 10th District become less overpopulated.  Under this scenario, the 7th District would likely need to take some of the 10th’s population to replace the population it would lose when the 5th cuts through it.  A particularly clever Republican map of the 5th District would move part of its western boundary toward Charlottesville.  This move would absorb some liberal voters around Charlottesville and draw Perriello out of the district (he is from the town of Ivy to the east of Charlottesville).  Once removed from his former district, Perriello would be less likely to run again.

Because partisan control of the Virginia General Assembly is divided, neither party is likely to get its ideal congressional district map.  Whatever plan emerges will have to take into consideration the demographic facts that all three districts in the southwestern part of the state (5th, 6th, and 9th) are underpopulated and that the 10th in Northern Virginia is significantly overpopulated.  Unless the state’s congressional districts are completely redrawn (which seems very unlikely), the legislature will have to expand several districts into the 10th to make every district have an equal population.  If the 5th, 6th, and 7th Districts are expanded into the western part of the 10th District, they will likely become stronger for Republicans because that part of the 10th District is strong Republican territory.  For the moderate 5th District, a compromise is likely; one possible solution would add a Democratic section (such as Greensville County) while extending the district to the north into the 7th and then 10th Districts to add Republican voters.  But, because the 5th District is in the middle of the state and one of the most competitive in the state, it could be redrawn in many different ways.

See Interactive Map of all Congressional Districts in Virginia

Tomorrow’s post, the third in our series on Virginia congressional redistricting, will examine in more detail the Republican 10th District, as well as the Democratic 8th and 11th Districts in the northern part of 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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