Virginia Redistricting: Republican Districts Surrounding Democratic Richmond

Today’s post, the fourth in our series on congressional redistricting in Virginia, will examine the two districts surrounding Richmond and the district that includes downtown Richmond.

7th District

Starting at the southern border of the 10th District (profiled yesterday), the 7th District moves southwest through much of central Virginia but stops north of downtown Richmond.  Instead, the district surrounds Richmond to the northeast (including Mechanicsville) and to the west. As the district moves south from its northern border with the 10th, it borders the 6th District then the 5th District to the west and the 1st District to the east. When the district gets relatively close to Richmond, it borders the 4th District immediately to the south and the 3rd District (which includes downtown Richmond) to the southeast. In addition to Mechanicsville in the south, the district also includes the city of Culpeper and Luray (famous for Luray Caverns) in its northern region. The 7th District is relatively homogeneous ethnically, with whites constituting 75.7% of its population. The district has a population of 743,973, making overpopulated by roughly 16,000 people.*

Congressman Eric Cantor

Republican Eric Cantor has represented the 7th District since 2001.  Following the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010, Cantor became the House Majority Leader. Cantor usually wins reelection by comfortable margins. He won with 59.3% in 2010, 62.7% in 2008, 64% in 2006, and 76% in 2004. John McCain won the district in 2008 with 53% of the vote, and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell did very well in the district in 2009. The only area of the district that has voted Democratic in the past few elections is Henrico County (the county surrounding Richmond), which voted for President Obama in 2008 by 56%. In its current form, the district is solidly Republican.

How might the 7th District be redrawn? Even though Cantor does not have the tenure of other Congressional Republicans in Virginia, as House Majority Leader he is the most powerful member of the state’s delegation and his interests will likely be protected in the process. However, the district is overpopulated by approximately 16,000 people and thus needs to be redrawn. To help reduce the population of the significantly overpopulated 10th district, the 7th could be shifted north into the 10th to pick up additional people (likely Republicans), while yielding territory and population elsewhere. The Republican and underpopulated 4th and 5th Districts border the 7th and will likely be drawn into the current 7th to pick up Republican voters. The 4th District (detailed below) could be redrawn to pick up some of the Richmond suburbs that are currently in the western part of the 7th District. The 5th District could be redrawn to the east or north into the 7th District to pick up additional people. One possibility would be to expand the 5th District into the 7th District around Charlottesville to increase the distance between Charlottesville and the western edge of the 7th District.  This move would help prevent future attempts to add part or all of liberal Charlottesville to the 7th District. However, the 5th District could be expanded into the 7th at any point along their common border.

4th District

The 4th District begins at the southern border of the 7th district and runs southward, bordering the 5th District to the west. As the district gets closer to North Carolina (west of South Hill), it jumps inward toward the northeast along Interstate 85 before again going southward to the North Carolina border, picking up the city of Emporia. The district includes the southern portion of I-95 and runs east along the North Carolina border until it hits the 2nd District near the Atlantic Ocean. It then goes northward to pick up the city of Chesapeake and then borders the James River before it cuts in to the west before continuing northward back towards Richmond. The district also includes the cities of Petersburg, Franklin, and Suffolk. The district is more ethnically diverse than the 7th District–33.6% of the 4th District is African American. The district has a population of 728,901, making it almost an ideally-sized district (overpopulated by only about 1,500 people).

Republican Randy Forbes has represented the 4th District since 2001 and has regularly won reelection by comfortable margins.

Congressman Randy Forbes

In 2010 he won with 62.2% of the vote, in 2008 with 59.5%, in 2006 with 76%, and in 2004 with 65%. Even though Forbes wins easily, the district has begun to trend more Democratic. Obama won it barely with 50% in 2008, winning Greensville County on the North Carolina border, Sussex County, Suffolk County, Chesapeake County, and the city of Petersburg (with 90%). In 2009, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds won Greensville County and the city of Petersburg (with 81%). Despite the increasing Democratic trends, Forbes has maintained a lock on the district.

How might the 4th District be redrawn?  While the district is near the ideal population size, the 2nd District to the east is underpopulated and will likely need to be expanded into the 4th to add population while keeping it Republican (see tomorrow’s post). To make up that lost population, the 4th District is unlikely to be redrawn into the 5th because that district is already underpopulated. Instead, the 4th District could be drawn to the north to take part of the 7th District in the suburbs around Richmond. If Republicans draw the 4th District carefully into the 7th, they can add people to the district and also help add Republicans to the district to help Forbes in future elections. While the 4th District voted for Obama in 2008, Forbes has shown that he can win by significant margins in the district and at age 58 is likely to run for reelection for at least several more cycles. The 5th District to the west and the 2nd to the east have just elected Republicans in close elections and are much more vulnerable districts than Forbes’s 4th. Democrats are much more likely to try to fight over plans that would add Republicans to these districts instead of fighting over the 4th District, which Forbes has made solidly his. Therefore, Republicans are likely to add some Republicans to the district to help Forbes (while also allowing the 2nd District to expand into his current district), and Democrats are unlikely to fight over this new district.

3rd District

The 3rd District comprises the city of Richmond and then spreads northeast through New Kent County and to include the western edge of the York River. On its western side, the 3rd District heads southeast (bordering the 7th and then the 4th Districts), moving through Henrico County to include the western headwaters of the James River. It crosses the James River several times to include Prince George and Surry Counties, parts of Newport News, and parts of Hampton then Portsmouth and parts of Norfolk. The district is a majority African American district, with an African American population of 54.6%. The district’s total has a population is 680,284, which means that it is underpopulated by approximately 47,000 people.

Congressman Bobby Scott

The 3rd District is solidly Democratic. Democrat Bobby Scott has represented it since 1993 and usually has only token opposition, if any. He won with 70% of the vote in 2010 and did not have a Republican opponent in 2008. Obama won the district with 76% of the vote in 2008. Democrats Obama and Deeds won Richmond, Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth, and Norfolk in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

How might the 3rd District be redrawn? The district will stay solidly Democratic and likely majority African American. The federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) protects majority minority districts (as a state covered under Section V of the VRA, Virginia will have to pre-clear its entire congressional redistricting plan with the Department of Justice before it is implemented).  The Act requires that districts in which African Americans can elect the candidate of their choice must, whenever possible, maintain that “ability to elect” after redistricting.  The 3rd District has been drawn carefully to pick up African American communities in cities located along the James River plus Richmond. Any proximate African American communities that are currently outside of the district will likely be added to it.  Because the district is underpopulated by 47,000 it will have to add a significant number of new constituents, while maintaining an African American majority. The district could be expanded to include parts of Chesapeake (where African Americans are more than 30% of the population) or to the east in Virginia Beach (where African Americans are more than 20% of the population). In any event, the district is virtually certain to remain safely Democratic.

See Interactive Map of all Congressional Districts in Virginia

Tomorrow’s post, the fifth and final post in our series on Virginia redistricting, will look at the 1st and 2nd Districts located along Virginia’s tidewater region.  The post will also provide some overall conclusions about the Commonwealth’s redistricting process.

*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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