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Virginia As Imperfect Bellwether

November 9, 2011

Let's be clear, off-year elections aren't great indicators of the direction of a presidential contest. But even after Republicans won control of the Virginia state Senate last night, Democrats can make the case that they didn't do so bad -- and, more importantly, that the results are evidence Virginia voters have not rejected the Democratic Party, despite recent Republican wins.

That should be a relief to President Obama's re-election strategists.

Democrats lost two seats last night, one in Southwest, along the North Carolina border, and one stretching from Fredericksburg to Charlottesville. The southern seat, held by outgoing Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, is in an area where even popular Democrats like Sen. Mark Warner have trouble making inroads. The northern seat, where Republican Bryce Reeves holds an 86-vote lead over Democratic Sen. Edd Houck, is essentially a toss-up seat.

Drilling down into Houck's district, it's apparent Reeves' margin comes from Spotsylvania County, which Reeves won by 10 points, or about 1,600 votes, and Orange County, which he won by 500. Houck won Albemarle County by 1,100 votes and Fredericksburg City by 1,100 votes. Those are margins consistent with results over the last decade -- a decade in which Democrats won two Senate seats and the state's electoral votes.

(For comparison's sake, in the 2006 Senate race in which Democrat Jim Webb beat Republican George Allen by a similarly tiny margin, Webb won Albemarle by a 16-point margin, less than Houck's edge, and Allen won Spotsylvania by 15 points, more than Reeves' advantage).

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