Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

New Interest in the Old Dominion

In Election Analysis, Redistricting, State Legislatures on November 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Yesterday Louisa County, Virginia election officials were finalizing a canvas of that county’s votes in a pivotal state Senate race to determine partisan control of the upper house of the Virginia General Assembly. At the time, the current count showed GOP candidate Bryce Reeves holding a 224-vote lead over incumbent Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania). On election night it appeared that Reeves held a slimmer 86-vote margin until an error was found in Culpeper County’s reporting of the results in the north-central Virginia Senate district. However, not long ago, Sen. Houck conceded defeat, which effectively ends Democratic control in Richmond.

According to a post on his Facebook page, Houck wrote that “… following a conference call with my legal team and campaign advisors, I determined that I must concede this election. I do so knowing that ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.'”

That concession allows Reeves to become the 20th GOP senator, which creates a partisan deadlock in the Old Dominion’s 40-member chamber – a tie would be broken by the body’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who has already said that the GOP would take control of important committee chairmanships and assignments in the body.

One of the most important of those assignments is the chairmanship of the Privileges and Elections Committee. That individual will be responsible for drawing the Commonwealth’s new congressional redistricting plan. The GOP currently controls eight of the 11 congressional districts, but wants to improve the partisan make-up of some of the more marginal GOP seats and might find a way to make life even more difficult for Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly in the 11th District. Connolly barely survived a spirited challenge from GOP activist Keith Fimian in 2010. The 11th District is considered one of the more marginal districts from a partisan standpoint, and may be too tempting for the GOP majority in Richmond to ignore.

An alternative move may simply be to shore up Connolly and concede a seat to him. This would allow the GOP map drawers to create district switches where Democratic votes are moved into Connolly’s seat in order to put more Republican voters in marginal GOP seats. This strategy would allow the Republican leadership to move in a direction that locks in the 8-3 majority for the next decade.

It’s this type of decision that normally faces majorities of both parties when they construct new districts. In places like Indiana, for example, Republican leaders decided to forsake a secure 6R-3D map in exchange for a plan that could yield seven Republicans and only two Democrats. This type of approach maximizes partisan return in a good year for the majority party, but can falter when political fortunes turn sour. A map with a smaller, but more secure, delegation majority will likely hold up for the decade irrespective of political trends.

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