Redistricting Preview: Virginia’s Incumbent Protection Map

Virginia representatives Gerry Connoly and Eric Cantor.
Alex Wong/Getty Images, SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
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David Wasserman
March 17, 2011, 2 a.m.

Vir­gin­ia was among the first states to re­ceive its de­tailed re­dis­trict­ing data from the Census Bur­eau, and may be one of the first to take ac­tion on a con­gres­sion­al re­dis­trict­ing plan. It could hap­pen in as soon as three weeks when the Gen­er­al As­sembly con­venes. Earli­er this week, Politico’s Rich Co­hen re­por­ted that the state’s in­cum­bents, led by eight Re­pub­lic­ans, had reached an agree­ment on an “in­cum­bent-pro­tec­tion plan” that would so­lid­i­fy the GOP’s stand­ing in eight dis­tricts and pack Demo­crats in­to their cur­rent three.

This is the per­fect il­lus­tra­tion of how Re­pub­lic­ans across the coun­try are likely to ce­ment the gains they made in 2010 through re­dis­trict­ing. Three Re­pub­lic­an fresh­men — Reps. Scott Ri­gell of the 2nd Dis­trict, Robert Hurt of the 5th Dis­trict, and Mor­gan Grif­fith of the 9th Dis­trict — would win fa­vor­able changes, while Demo­crat­ic sopho­more Rep. Gerry Con­nolly of the 11th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict would re­ceive a safe-Demo­crat­ic dis­trict and long­time GOP Rep. Frank Wolf‘s 10th CD would be­come more Re­pub­lic­an.

In 2001, the Old Domin­ion’s Re­pub­lic­ans had ex­clus­ive con­trol over the re­dis­trict­ing pro­cess and drew an in­cum­bent-pro­tec­tion map that strengthened their grip on eight of the com­mon­wealth’s 11 seats. Al­though Demo­crats man­aged to cap­ture three GOP seats in 2008, Re­pub­lic­ans wres­ted two of them back in 2010. They also claimed the south­west­ern 9th CD, which had been held by Demo­crat Rick Bouch­er for 28 years. Today, the GOP con­trols all the levers ex­cept the state Sen­ate, but the story sounds much the same.

Over­all, odds fa­vor the deal, though there are three po­ten­tial obstacles:

  • The first is the state’s Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate, which would balk at the GOP’s at­tempt to pre­serve its hold on eight seats for an en­tire dec­ade. But Demo­crat­ic state sen­at­ors may have a power­ful in­cent­ive to go along: in­siders con­firm that in ex­change for ap­prov­ing the con­gres­sion­al map, Re­pub­lic­ans would let Demo­crats draw a new state Sen­ate map in time for the 2011 fall elec­tions. If the Gen­er­al As­sembly delays re­dis­trict­ing un­til after this year, it’s more likely state Sen­ate Demo­crats would lose their ma­jor­ity in the cham­ber un­der the cur­rent lines, which were drawn by the GOP in 2001. In fact, some have spec­u­lated that the GOP would seek to stone­wall the re­dis­trict­ing pro­cess un­til after this fall’s elec­tions so that they could have an op­por­tun­ity to win the state Sen­ate and gain full con­trol of the pro­cess. There wouldn’t be much stop­ping Re­pub­lic­ans from us­ing this delay tac­tic ex­cept pub­lic scorn. But Re­pub­lic­ans would also like to help some of their mem­bers of the House of Del­eg­ates in time for this fall, so they are will­ing to deal.
  • The second obstacle might be GOP Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell’s re­dis­trict­ing ad­vis­ory com­mis­sion, which has presided over the Vir­gin­ia Re­dis­trict­ing Com­pet­i­tion, a con­test in which col­lege stu­dents across the state have sub­mit­ted “sens­ible” dis­trict­ing plans for le­gis­lat­ive con­sid­er­a­tion. These en­ter­pris­ing col­lege stu­dents, along with the “ad­vis­ory” com­mis­sion­ers, will no doubt pub­licly em­bar­rass back­room in­cum­bent-friendly map­makers and their plans to draw non-com­pet­it­ive, geo­graph­ic­ally curi­ous dis­tricts. But at a re­cent hear­ing, le­gis­lat­ive aides could aud­ibly be heard laugh­ing at stu­dents’ plans.
  • Third, the Demo­crat­ic-ap­poin­ted Justice De­part­ment could well con­demn the in­cum­bent-pro­tec­tion plan for pack­ing too many black voters in­to the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an ma­jor­ity 3rd CD and di­lut­ing black vot­ing strength in neigh­bor­ing dis­tricts. The only in­cum­bent who might not like the pro­tec­tion deal is Demo­crat­ic Rep. Bobby Scott, who has long de­cried the “pack­ing” of his Nor­folk-to-Rich­mond dis­trict. But in a pro­trac­ted leg­al battle, case law of­fers little pro­tec­tion to the “in­flu­ence” status of dis­tricts sur­round­ing the 3rd CD.

The map be­low is our ap­prox­im­a­tion, based on both pub­lic re­port­ing and hints from our own sources, of what this “in­cum­bent pro­tec­tion” deal looks like:

Vir­gin­ia Scen­ario No. 1: In­cum­bent Pro­tec­tion Plan

Virginia Scenario #1: Incumbent Protection Plan Dave Bradlee's Redistricting App

Vir­gin­ia Scen­ario No. 1: North­ern Vir­gin­ia In­set

Virginia Scenario #1: Northern Virginia Inset Dave Bradlee's Redistricting App

Among the likely in­cum­bent-friendly changes in this map:

VA-01: The 1st CD, home of GOP Rep. Rob Wittman, who is from the dis­trict’s rur­al North­ern Neck, would move north in­to more of the North­ern Vir­gin­ia sub­urbs, in­clud­ing more of mar­gin­al east­ern Prince Wil­li­am County and pos­sibly Man­as­sas. In ex­change, Wittman would lose Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing parts of Hamp­ton to the 3rd CD and heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an York­town and Poquo­son at the dis­trict’s south­ern end to the 2nd CD. This dis­trict would still be just as solidly Re­pub­lic­an as it is now.

VA-02: Ri­gell, who is from Vir­gin­ia Beach, sits in the most un­der­pop­u­lated dis­trict in the state. His dis­trict would move north along the Vir­gin­ia Pen­in­sula in­to the Re­pub­lic­an bas­tions of York­town and Poquo­son, some of the most heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an cit­ies in the state. Ri­gell might also give some more Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing parts of Hamp­ton and Nor­folk to the 3rd CD, con­vert­ing the 2nd CD from a dis­trict that gave Pres­id­ent Obama 51 per­cent in­to a dis­trict that nar­rowly voted for 2008 GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee John Mc­Cain.

VA-03: Scott’s 3rd CD would be­come even more heav­ily Demo­crat­ic and Afric­an-Amer­ic­an, pick­ing up more black voters in Nor­folk, Hamp­ton, and New­port News from the 1st and 2nd CDs. The 3rd CD might also give heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an New Kent County to the 1st CD, and pick up more heav­ily black pre­cincts in Hen­rico County (sub­urb­an Rich­mond) from the 7th CD. These changes might boost the 3rd CD’s Afric­an-Amer­ic­an share from 54 per­cent to 56 per­cent.

VA-04: GOP Rep. Randy For­bes hasn’t had a close call since his June 2001 spe­cial elec­tion, but his 33 per­cent Afric­an-Amer­ic­an dis­trict voted nar­rowly for Pres­id­ent Obama in 2008 and he may want some more pro­tec­tion. While this dis­trict won’t give up any of For­bes’ ho­met­own of Ches­apeake, it could trade some heav­ily Demo­crat­ic pre­cincts in north­ern Chester­field County to House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor‘s 7th CD in ex­change for more heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an turf in south­ern and west­ern Chester­field County.

VA-05: The most egre­giously shaped dis­trict un­der the “com­prom­ise deal,” fresh­man Hurt’s dis­trict would stretch from his home in Pitt­sylvania County along the North Car­o­lina bor­der all the way up Route 29 to War­renton in Fauquier County, with­in 40 miles of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. In the pro­cess, it would lose Demo­crat­ic areas like Mar­tins­ville, which would go to the 9th CD, and Nel­son County, which would go to the 6th CD. It would gain more of heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an Bed­ford County as well as Re­pub­lic­an areas north of Char­lottes­ville, which would make the dis­trict two points more Re­pub­lic­an.

VA-06: This Shen­an­doah Val­ley dis­trict is the most Re­pub­lic­an in the state and GOP Rep. Bob Good­latte doesn’t need much more help. His dis­trict will need to ex­pand north in­to Page County and pos­sibly War­ren County (Front Roy­al) and parts of Fre­d­er­ick County. Good­latte might also pick up Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing Nel­son County from the 5th CD. Around Roan­oke, his dis­trict would also cede Salem, the ho­met­own of fresh­man Grif­fith, to the 9th CD, as well as heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an por­tions of south­ern Roan­oke County.

VA-07: Can­tor’s staff was heav­ily in­volved in the draft­ing of this map, so it will no doubt be friendly to this power­ful in­cum­bent. Can­tor’s sub­urb­an Rich­mond dis­trict will need to con­tract, most likely shed­ding its west­ern por­tions like Page, Madis­on, and Rap­pa­han­nock counties, as well as pos­sibly Culpeper County. It will also cede some heav­ily black pre­cincts in the city of Rich­mond and Hen­rico County to the 3rd CD, pre­serving the 7th CD’s strong Re­pub­lic­an bent.

VA-08: Demo­crat­ic Rep. Jim Mor­an‘s 8th CD doesn’t need any more Demo­crats, but neigh­bor­ing Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gerry Con­nolly needs more Demo­crats and Wolf’s neigh­bor­ing 10th CD could use few­er. So Mor­an’s dis­trict will likely cede its heav­ily Demo­crat­ic Re­ston ap­pend­age to Con­nolly, while tak­ing Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing pre­cincts in the Mount Ver­non area of Fair­fax County away from the 11th CD. Mor­an might also take Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing por­tions of in­ner McLean away from Wolf’s dis­trict.

VA-09: Grif­fith lives in Salem, slightly out­side his dis­trict’s bound­ar­ies. This is cer­tain to be rec­ti­fied in re­dis­trict­ing, as the 9th CD needs to pick up more than 70,000 res­id­ents any­way and will ex­pand in­to both Salem and GOP-lean­ing parts of south­ern Roan­oke County. Grif­fith could also af­ford to take Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing Mar­tins­ville away from the 5th CD. These changes won’t make the 9th CD much more Re­pub­lic­an on the whole, but this GOP-trend­ing Ap­palachi­an seat isn’t one Demo­crats are get­ting back any­time soon.

VA-10: Wolf, who has held a ver­sion of this boom­ing north­ern Vir­gin­ia seat since 1980, needs to shed a stag­ger­ing 142,071 con­stitu­ents. Wolf, who lives in Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing Fair­fax County, wants to keep Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing Winchester in the Shen­an­doah Val­ley for bal­ance, but big changes are still needed. Wolf will likely cede Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing McLean to Mor­an’s 8th CD, plus heav­ily Demo­crat­ic Herndon and Centre­ville to Con­nolly’s 11th CD.

Wolf may also need to for­feit Clarke County to Good­latte, Fauquier County to Hurt, and mar­gin­al Man­as­sas to Wittman’s 1st CD. In ex­change, Wolf could pick up more heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an pre­cincts like Clifton in south­ern Fair­fax County and Hay­mar­ket in west­ern Prince Wil­li­am County. On the whole, these changes would make the 10th CD two points more Re­pub­lic­an, which would help GOP ef­forts to re­tain this seat when Wolf, 72, de­cides to re­tire.

VA-11: Con­nolly, the former Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­visors chair, would be the biggest win­ner un­der the in­cum­bent pro­tec­tion plan. The cur­rent 11th CD was drawn by and for former Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Tom Dav­is, who held this seat between 1996 and 2008. But un­der new lines, Con­nolly could shed Re­pub­lic­an areas like Mount Ver­non and Clifton in Fair­fax County and Gaines­ville in west­ern Prince Wil­li­am County.

In ex­change, Con­nolly (who pre­vailed by just 981 votes in 2010) will likely pick up heav­ily Demo­crat­ic Re­ston, Herndon, and Centre­ville in Fair­fax County as well as heav­ily Demo­crat­ic Wood­bridge and Dale City in Prince Wil­li­am County. These changes would push Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2008 share of the vote in the dis­trict from 57 per­cent to 62 per­cent, ef­fect­ively put­ting it out of the GOP’s reach for the fore­see­able fu­ture.


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