Virginia Redistricting: The Growing Northern Virginia Suburbs

Today’s post, the third in our series on Congressional redistricting in Virginia, will look at the 8th, 10th, and 11th Districts in Northern Virginia.

8th District

The suburban 8th District starts just north of Mount Vernon and goes west toward Interstate 95 and east to the Potomac River. Going north it follows the Potomac River as its eastern boundary (most of the way directly across the river from Washington D.C.), up past the cities of Alexandria and Arlington, stopping slightly south of McLean. It avoids McLean and juts westward with a fairly narrow arm to include Tysons Corner and the city of Reston. When the arm comes back east, it follows Interstate 495 (known as the Capital Beltway) southward past Interstate 66 before cutting in to the east to include Falls Church. It proceeds southward staying east of the Beltway until it hits I-95, which it follows until it again cuts to the east slightly. The district’s population is wealthy–20.7% of families in the 8th district have a family income of $200,000 or more. The district’s population is also ethnically diverse; it is only 64.6% white and has large African American, Latino, and Asian communities. Unlike the overpopulated districts surrounding it, the 8th is slightly underpopulated at 689,880 and needs approximately 37,000 new residents to have an ideal population.*

Congressman Jim Moran

The district is one of only two solidly Democratic districts in the state (the other is the Richmond-based 3rd District, which is detailed in a later post). Even when Republican Governor Bob McDonnell badly beat Creigh Deeds in 2009, Arlington and Alexandria counties voted strongly for Deeds. President Obama did even better in 2008, when he won Arlington County with 73% and Alexandria County with 72%. Obama won the district with 69% of the vote. Democrat Jim Moran has been the 8th District’s Congressman since 1991 and wins by comfortable margins. In the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, Moran won with 61% of the vote.

How might the district be redrawn? Even though it is in the rapidly expanding Northern Virginia suburbs, it is underpopulated and needs to add additional people. To the south and west, it is surrounded by the competitive (but Democratic) and overpopulated 11th District and to the north it is surrounded by the overpopulated 10th district (which currently has a Republican incumbent but has voted Democratic). The district will very likely remain strongly Democratic. Republicans may want to add part or all of McLean to make the 10th (and its Republican incumbent) have one less major Washington suburb. Republicans could try to expand the 8th into the 11th to give the 8th parts of Fairfax County (61% Obama) in an attempt to dilute the 11th District’s liberal base. However, Democrats will likely object to any plan that makes the 11th district less liberal as it is one of only three districts in the state with a Democratic incumbent. Republicans also would have difficulty making the 11th District a Republican district (see below) and will likely try to preserve the 10th as a Republican district by making it recede to the west and giving the more liberal parts of it to the 8th. Adding McLean to the 8th district would likely appeal to both parties as it would help keep the 8th and 11th districts Democratic and the 10th Republican. Yet, either party could try to draw the 8th in a different way in an attempt to change the makeup of either the 10th or 11th.

11th District

Starting at the bottom of the 8th District, the 11th District follows the border of the 8th District to the north and the Potomac River to the south. The 11th District follows the 8th District to the northwest along the 8th’s arm, but then heads south until it hits I-66.  The district follows I-66 westward until it becomes concave (it juts sharply south) to avoid Manassas (in the 10th). The 11th goes north after Manassas past I-66 then goes southward on a fairly straight line crossing I-66 again (and going significantly past I-66 southward) before heading east south of Dale City and over I-95 before it hits the Potomac River. The district includes parts of Prince William and Fairfax County including the city of Fairfax and George Mason University. The district is similarly ethnically diverse to the 8th District–66.7% white, 11.5% African American, and 15.6% Latino. Unlike the 8th, it is overpopulated; its 770,285 people makes it too populated by more than 42,000 people.

The district appeared fairly solidly Democratic in 2008–Obama won the district with 57% of the vote and Democrat

Congressman Gerry Connolly

Gerry Connolly, the former Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, won with 54.7% of the vote. However, Republicans have done well in the district before and after 2008. Moderate Republican Tom Davis was the district’s Congressman from 1995-2008, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell won Fairfax County in 2009 with 51%, and Republican Keith Fimian (who ran against Connolly in 2008) barely lost by less than 1% in 2010. When Davis represented the district, he usually won with fairly comfortable margins (he won with 55% during the Democratic wave in 2006). In 2010, Fimian outspent Connolly $2.7 million to Connolly’s $2.4 million and lost by only a few hundred votes. Over the past ten years, the district has been fairly moderate and hypothetically could be redrawn to make it competitive for either party.

How might the district be redrawn?  For two reasons, it is unlikely the Republicans will be able to make it more Republican friendly.  First, Republicans do not control the entire redistricting process, and Democrats in the Senate will likely work to protect the 11th District.  Second, even if Republicans could draw the lines however they wanted, they would still struggle to make the district more Republican friendly. The district is overpopulated and needs to lose more than 40,000 people. It could be redrawn to give many of these people to the Democratic 8th District to the north. Republicans could attempt to make the district more Republican by drawing it into the Republican parts of the 10th District to the north or the 1st district to the south. Yet, drawing the 11th District into either of these districts would add more people, and the district needs to lose people. Adding more Republicans to the district still leaves the district over populated and still leaves it with a significant base of Democratic voters. The district could add some to the 8th but would still be overpopulated. It would then be forced to be redrawn to add people to the 10th District to the north. However, any population that shifts from the 11th District to the 10th District would likely be Democratic voters. The 10th District voted for Obama in 2008 and, while its Republican incumbent Frank Wolf continues to win elections fairly comfortably, the Democratic trends of the 10th District makes some Republicans worry that when Wolf retires the district could flip Democratic (see below). Therefore, Republicans are very unlikely to add residents of the 11th District to the 10th District. In addition, the 10th is already the most overpopulated district in the state. Republicans and Democrats may agree to a compromise that protects both Connolly in the 11th and Wolf in the 10th. The 11th would be redrawn to give the 8th additional people to balance the 8th and then would be extended slightly into the 1st District simply to pick up the necessary residents to balance its population.  The 11th could also be redrawn to pick up Manassas while moving its southern border with the 1st District northward to help balance its population and offset the addition of Manassas, which voted for Obama in 2008.

10th District

The 10th District borders the 8th and 11th Districts to the east with prongs that pick up Manassas and McLean. The district then recedes to the northwest to have a northern border with Maryland and West Virginia. To the south, the 10th District runs south of Interstate 66 bordering both the 1st and 7th Districts until I-66 dead-ends into Interstate 81. While the 10th District continues west to the West Virginia border, it includes the northern part of the I-81 corridor. The district includes the cities of Front Royal and Winchester to the west and Chantilly and Sterling to the east. The district is, by far, the most populous in the state.  With 838,267 people, it is now overpopulated by more than 110,000 people. The district is less ethnically diverse than the other two Northern Virginia districts–its population is 74.2% white.

Congressman Frank Wolf

Even though Republican incumbent Frank Wolf has had a lock on the district for decades (he was first elected in 1981), the district continues to trend Democratic. Wolf won 64% of the vote in 2010 and 58.8% of the vote in 2008 even though Obama carried the district with 53%. Wolf demonstrated his ability to win in tough years in 2006 and 2008.  Democratic challenger Judy Feder blanketed the Northern Virginia airwaves with ads attacking Wolf for being in Congress too long and in 2008 tried to tie Wolf to Republican John McCain.  Wolf won by  comfortable margins both times. While Republican Governor Bob McDonnell did very well in Wolf’s district in 2009, Obama won it in 2008. Loudon County and the city of Winchester voted for Obama in 2008 and for Democratic Governor Tim Kaine in 2005. Wolf has shown that he can win in the district despite its Democratic trends; however, Wolf is 71 years old and when he retires, the current district would likely be competitive.

How might the 10th District be redrawn? The 10th is among the most difficult to redraw in the state. In addition to being significantly overpopulated, Republicans need to make it less liberal in case Wolf retires during the next ten years. Two of the Democratic bases in the district are the eastern edge, which is closest to Washington, D.C. (the Manassas and McLean prongs), and the city of Winchester in the west.  As noted in a recent post, the 6th District to the south needs to gain people, especially if the 9th District in the southwest corner of the state is drawn into the 6th to help it gain population (both the 9th and 6th are underpopulated). As the 6th District is solidly Republican, Republicans would likely want to redraw it to include the northernmost part of I-81 (the district already follows I-81 for most of the state) to remove part or all of the city of Winchester. Both the 7th and the 1st Districts will likely be redrawn to include part of the current 10th District because both of those districts are likely to lose population along their southern boundaries to help equalize underpopulated districts in southern Virginia (such as the 5th detailed in the previous post). The 7th and 1st would likely be drawn directly northward toward I-66 simply to help them add population. Additionally, Republicans would like to make the 10th District recede farther to the west away from the more liberal Washington, D.C. suburbs. Ideally, Republicans would redraw the 10th to lose both Manassas and McLean. Yet, the difficulty becomes which district would pick up these additional people. If one combines the 8th and 11th Districts to be of equal size, they would both be slightly overpopulated (the 11th is more overpopulated than the 8th is underpopulated), so the districts need to lose people. But if Republicans attempted to add either McLean or Manassas to either the 8th or the 11th, then that district would have to lose even more people. The 1st District to the south (detailed later) could be redrawn to include part of the 11th District as well; however, the 1st is a marginally Republican district (McCain only won with 51% in 2008) and Republicans will be cautious about adding significant parts of liberal Northern Virginia to this district. The 10th District could be redrawn many different ways, but a possible solution that would benefit Republicans as a whole would give Winchester to the 6th District, McLean to the 8th District, and expand the 7th and 1st Districts into the 10th to equalize the population. Democrats could likely agree to such a plan if the plan also left the 11th District largely as it currently is to prevent it from becoming more Republican. Alternatively, the 10th would keep McLean but give Manassas to the 11th to make the 11th have another Northern Virginia suburb (the 11th would shrink to the south to equalize its population). Either scenario would protect Democratic incumbents in the 8th and 11th Districts and help Republicans in the future in the 1st and 10th Districts.

Summary: The Northern Virginia region is the most difficult to redraw in 2011 for several reasons. The 10th and the 11th Districts are over populated (the 10th significantly) while the underpopulated 8th borders both the 10th and 11th Districts. While the 8th is solidly Democratic, the 10th is held by a Republican incumbent but is trending Democratic. The 11th, while currently held by a Democrat, has been a swing district over the past ten years. Under populated districts in the southern part of the state will have to be drawn northward to gain population. Republicans would like to keep the 10th Republican and swing the 11th Republican while Democrats would like to keep the 11th Democratic and swing the 10th Democratic. Yet both the split partisan control of the process and pure demographics make it very unlikely that either side will get its wishes. A likely solution is a compromise which will protect current incumbents (and their respective parties) for the next ten years.

See Interactive Map of all Congressional Districts in Virginia

Tomorrow’s post, the fourth in our series on Virginia redistricting, will look at the districts that surround the city of Richmond (3rd, 4th, and 7th).

*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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