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 No. 1: Northern Virginia Inset
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.