Virginia Redistricting: Protecting Incumbents Again? (The Complete Series)

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.

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.

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

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.

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 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%.

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.

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.

The district is one of only two solidly Democratic districts in the state (the other is the Richmond-based 3rd District, which is detailed later). 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 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.

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 above, 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 above). 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.

7th District

Starting at the southern border of the 10th District, 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. 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. 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 below). 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. 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.

1st District

The 1st District is bordered to the north by the suburban 10th and 11th Districts and to the southeast by the Potomac River and the the Chesapeake Bay. At its western border, the 1st District runs along the 7th District and the 3rd District. As the district runs southward, it includes all of the Rappahanock River and most of the York River before ending North of Hampton and the James River. The district includes the cities of Fredericksburg, Williamsburg (including William and Mary College), part of Hampton, and part of Newport News. The district’s population is 74.5% white and 21.1% African American. The district has a population of 784,164, making it overpopulated by more than 56,000 people.

While the district does have some Democratic leaning areas, it has continued to vote Republican. Republican Rob Wittman has represented the district since 2007 when he replaced deceased Republican Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis in a special election. Wittman won with 63.9% of the vote in 2010 and 56.6% in 2008; Davis had won with 63% of the vote in 2006 and 80% in 2004. Republican John McCain won the district with 51% in 2008. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell did very well in the district in 2009, although Democrat Creigh Deeds carried the city of Fredericksburg. In 2008, 2006, and 2005 Democrats demonstrated that they could win certain areas of the district. In 2008, Obama won the city of Fredericksburg, Westmoreland County, Caroline County, Essex County, King and Queen County, and the city of Williamburg. In 2006, Democratic Senator Jim Webb won the city of Fredericksburg, Caroline County, the city of Williamsburg, and Westmoreland County. In 2005, Democratic Governor Tim Kaine won the city of Fredericksburg, Caroline County, Westmoreland County, King and Queen County, and the city of Williamsburg.

How might the 1st District be redrawn? Because the 1st District is currently overpopulated by more than 56,000 people it will need to shed population. One solution that Republicans would likely favor would expand the underpopulated 2nd District (detailed below) into the 1st District. The region that the 2nd District might acquire is the mostly Republican territory to the south; expanding the 2nd District into this area would help make it more solidly Republican. Alternatively, the adjacent Democratic 3rd District could be expanded into the 1st District to pick up the city of Williamsburg but, as mentioned above, the 3rd District needs to remain a majority African American district and is unlikely to move into the 1st any farther than Williamsburg. Most likely, the 1st District will remain Republican, despite containing several pockets of Democratic support. Democrats are unlikely to try to make this district a top priority because they have other, more reasonable targets in the 2nd and 5th Districts.

2nd District

Virginia has a large eastern peninsula surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. To the north, the peninsula connects to the state of Maryland; it does not geographically connect to the rest of Virginia. This peninsula–including Chincoteague Island and Cape Charles–makes up most of the territory of the 2nd District. To the south, the district follows the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel to include the southeast corner of Virginia, including Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth’s most populous city. The district also includes parts of Norfolk and Hampton. The district’s population is 68% white and 22.2% African American. The district has a population of 634,015, which makes it underpopulated by more than 93,000 people. The district has had close elections since 2004. In 2004 and 2006, Republican Congresswoman Thelma Drake won reelection by small margins. In 2008, Barack Obama won the district with 50% of the vote, and Democrat Glenn Nye beat Drake with 52.4%. Republicans almost immediately began to target and attack Nye. Unlike some Democrats, Nye voted against major parts of the Democratic agenda, including the healthcare bill and cap and trade. However, Republicans recruited wealthy car dealer Scott Rigell to run against Nye in what quickly became an ugly race. Rigell spent over $4 million (including over $2.5 million of his own money) compared to Nye’s $2.2 million. Nye ran ads explaining that he had voted against controversial parts of the Democratic agenda, but Republicans ran an ad attacking Nye for lying about voting against the bailout of Wall Street (he hadn’t actually been in Congress in 2008 when that vote took place). Rigell ran an ad discussing how as a small businessman he knew how to create jobs and was against excessive government spending; however, Democrats ran ads calling Rigell a hypocrite because as a car deal he had benefited from the government cash for clunkers program. Late in the campaign, Republicans attacked Nye because he had said in 2008 that he would use his clout with Democratic leaders to keep an aircraft carrier in Norfolk (the Navy and Defense spending are very important to the Norfolk region’s economy) but had failed, costing the district thousands of jobs. In the end, Rigell won with 53.2% of the vote, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) already has Rigell on its list of seats to target in 2012.

How might the 2nd District be redrawn? This district is perhaps the most competitive in the state and Democrats would love to add Democratic voters to swing the district more Democratic. However, they have two problems. First, they only control the Senate and control of the redistricting process is split. Second, they will struggle to find a significant number of additional Democratic voters. Democrats could redraw the district to include all of Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton and easily flip the district Democratic. But significant portions of these cities are in the 3rd District. The 3rd is also underpopulated and, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act, must remain majority African American. Most African Americans in these cities are almost certain to remain in the 3rd District and cannot be added to the 2nd. Additionally, as mentioned in the section on the 3rd District, additional African American communities in the region (possibly in Chesapeake) that are not already a part of the 3rd District are likely to be added to the district to give it an ideally sized population while maintaining its 50%+ African American population. Yet, these cities are the largest Democratic bases in the region. If they cannot be added to the 2nd District, the district would have to be significantly redrawn to pick up additional Democratic voters in other regions. Republicans in the House of Delegates and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell simply will not let that happen. One way or another, the 2nd District does need to pick up over 93,000 people. The district’s boundaries could be drawn farther to the west, into the 4th District, to pick up additional population, but Republicans will be careful not to draw it too far west because several of those counties voted for Obama in 2008. Republicans would likely instead prefer to draw the district to the north into the 1st District to pick up counties that vote solidly Republican. As mentioned above, the 1st District is already overpopulated and may be drawn into one of the northern Virginia districts to help alleviate the overpopulation problem in that region. This solution would be ideal for Republicans (especially if the 1st is drawn into a Republican part of the 10th District) because the 1st District would remain Republican and the 2nd District would become a stronger Republican district. Democrats do have a say and would like to prevent that scenario. Republicans and Democrats could reach a compromise that would extend the 2nd to the west to pick up some Democratic voters and to the 1st to pick up more Republican voters to make the district remain competitive. Both sides are likely to fight over this district because it is possibly the most competitive in the state and because its underpopulation problem means it needs to be significantly redrawn.


As shown throughout this series, uneven population growth in Virginia has made two northern Virginia districts significantly over populated while many of the districts in the southern part of the state are underpopulated. Republicans control the majority of the districts in the state as well as the governor’s mansion and the House of Delegates. But Democrats control the Senate, giving them a voice in the redistricting process and preventing Republicans from drawing the districts at will. Based on pure population numbers, many southern districts and districts in the middle of the state will have to be drawn north to include more people. Unfortunately for Republicans, northern Virginia is a strong base of Democratic voters, which threatens Republicans’ ability to keep their current number of seats or add additional Republican seats. Based on political and demographics characteristics of the state and specific districts, it is likely that the 9th, 6th, 7th, 1st, and 4th Districts will remain solid Republican after redistricting and the 8th and 3rd will remain solidly Democratic. The 10th District, currently represented by longtime Republican incumbent Frank Wolf, could be redrawn in several different ways because of its significant overpopulation problem. However, Republicans will likely keep the district Republican, at least as long as Wolf does not retire. When he retires, depending upon how the district is redrawn, it could become a swing district or could remain Republican. The 11th District, currently represented by Democrat Gerry Connolly, could hypothetically be redrawn to become more Republican, but Republicans would struggle to do that and keep the 10th District Republican. Additionally, Democrats will fight to keep the 11th Democratic, meaning that Connolly is likely safe. The 2nd and 5th Districts, both of which have flipped from Republican to Democrat to back to Republican over the past three cycles, are the most competitive in the state. Both parties will fight over how the districts are redrawn, and they could remain competitive in the future depending upon how they are drawn. Overall, Democrats and Republicans may realize that their number of seats in Congress is currently the best each party can do, and thus may make a deal that protects all eleven incumbents.

*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.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.