Virginia 5th District
Southside Virginia is a geographic name that for years was shorthand for a state of mind. Located here is Appomattox Court House, in the serene little hamlet where Robert E. Lee surrendered to his one-time subordinate Ulysses S. Grant; and also Danville, where the tobacco auction originated in 1858. In Prince Edward County, Democratic Sen. Harry Byrd’s massive resistance to a federal court desegregation order shut down public schools in 1957. The eastern counties are flat and humid—frontier in the late colonial period, plantation country by 1800, and now peanut fields and pine forests. Along U.S. 58 are the vestiges of Virginia’s Tobacco Road, and in South Hill the Tobacco Farm Life Museum pays tribute to that heritage, though only one tobacco warehouse is still in business. To the west, into the Piedmont, the land gradually gets more hilly. There is a D-Day Memorial in Bedford, which lost more men per capita, 23 of its 35 soldiers, in the Normandy invasion than any other town in the nation. Nearby are the abandoned textile mills and furniture factories of Danville and Martinsville, with Virginia’s highest unemployment. Their economy is on the rebound with an IKEA furniture factory, the nation’s largest indoor fish farm called Blue Ridge Aquaculture, and biofuel and wind energy research centers financed by the state’s tobacco settlement money.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Other new influences are taking root in Southside Virginia. Metro Richmond is reaching out and rural counties have sprouted subdivisions and shopping centers. Charlottesville, once a tiny town centered on Thomas Jefferson’s lawn at the University of Virginia, and surrounding Albemarle County have attracted new residents to the college town atmosphere and the beauty of the rolling hills of the Piedmont. A half century ago, the politics of Southside were Democratic and segregationist, run by chain-smoking local bankers and courthouse lawyers. But they are long gone. UVA’s Board of Visitors voted in 2007 to apologize for its treatment of slaves.
The 5th district of Virginia consists of much of Southside Virginia, west of metropolitan Richmond, and spreads out to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It includes all of liberal Charlottesville and Albemarle County and fast-growing Fluvanna County, but skirts around conservative Lynchburg. In recent decades, the district has mostly gone Republican. But Virginia’s recent Democratic governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, have energized Charlottesville and Albemarle County liberals, and Democrat Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 registered thousands of Southside blacks. The 5th district was politically competitive in 2008 and produced one of the biggest upsets in congressional contests that year.