Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Part 1

This is the first part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia. The second part can be found here.

During the ’08 campaign, the political beltway famously defined Virginia as a Republican stronghold gone Democratic. For ten straight presidential elections, the state had reliably turned up in the Republican column. President Barack Obama, however, promised to change that – and he did.

Virginia indeed is becoming bluer – but not as much as one might think. The state moved Republican sooner than the rest of the South, but never became as deep red as places like Alabama. The actual trend from ’04 to ’08 is less prominent than one might think:

I think this in fact slightly understates Republican strength. Mr. Obama, after all, fit extremely well with Virginia’s Democratic base – blacks and rich NoVa residents. He might have overperformed. In many ways, Virginia still constitutes a purple state, perhaps even a red-leaning one. Democrats must run competent candidates and/or do this in favorable national environments; if both conditions are missing, they may get pummeled ala Creigh Deeds.

This may change in the future. As its wealthy, diverse, and Democratic-leaning NoVa suburbs continue growing; Virginia may soon become more Democratic than even Pennsylvania. This trend was much noted in 2008.

What is less noted is the degree to which the media has overstated this change. These demographic shifts are the work of decades, not one election; they occur very gradually. Moreover, even as bluing NoVa expands, Virginia’s western regions continue to redden – especially the once Democratic-leaning panhandle. This blunts the NoVa effect. Virginia may be turning Democratic, but Democrats should not underestimate continued Republican strength.


Analyzing Virginia’s 2009 Gubernatorial Election, Part 1

This is the first part of two posts analyzing Virginia’s 2009 gubernatorial election. The second part can be found here.

(Note: All statistics are derived from

A normal observer might see the above map and naturally conclude that the Democratic candidate lost a landslide election. This is not always the case. In the 1968 presidential election, for instance, the state of New York looked like this:

Although it does not look like it, Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey won the state: 49.76% to 44.30%.

In November 2009, however, State Senator Creigh Deeds did in fact receive a thorough pummeling from Attorney General Bob McDonnell. An unappealing candidate running in a tough national climate, Mr. Deeds lost the race 41.25% to 58.61%.

Creigh Deeds only won two types of counties: his home district and Democratic strongholds. The former include the two blue counties along the state’s eastern border. The latter are populated by two Democratic constituencies: firstly, blacks in Virginia’s 3rd congressional district and secondly, wealthy suburbanites south of Washington (Virginia’s 8th congressional district).

Surprisingly (and disturbingly) Mr. Deeds lost Fairfax County, the key to recent Democratic success in Virginia. Rich, diverse, and heavily populated – Northern Virginia suburban voters were largely responsible for Democratic victories by Governor Tim Kaine, Senator Jim Webb and President Barack Obama.

Mr. McDonnell’s victory in Fairfax indicates one of two things. Either the Democratic Party has not entrenched itself in NoVa – or it is moving back to the Republicans. The latter possibility is highly worrisome and not simply confined to Virginia.

There is little more that the above map indicates – one cannot tell much from a map that just shows red counties. Differentiating the mass of red reveals more:

This image maps the results based on degree of support. It shows a substantial east-west divide hidden in the first map. Western Virginia voted Republican with far more intensity; eastern Virginia tended to be more moderate in its support of Mr. McDonnell.

Notice how intensely Republican the western panhandle is voting. These voters – poor, white, rural Appalachian folk – used to vote Democratic based on economic appeals. This trend subsisted even in fairly recent times: John Kerry won a couple counties; Senator Jim Webb took three. Former president Bill Clinton did even better (he lost the state by 1.96%):

Creigh Deeds, a moderate politician representing an Appalachian district, was supposed to appeal to the rural voters populating western Virginia; as the map makes evident, he failed to do so (outside his home districts). I suspect Barack Obama  may have something to do with this; his poor performance amongst Appalachian voters may be affecting Democratic candidates everywhere. Given the many Democratic politicians elected from Appalachia, this – if true – would definitely be a bad thing.

Finally, it is possible to map the results if Mr. Deeds had tied Mr. McDonnell:

This indicates the relative Democratic or Republican lean of each county – a county may vote Republican but still lean Democratic compared to the overall result, and vice versa. Massachusetts, for example, voted Republican in Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide – but nobody would accuse it of being a Republican state. It went red, but relative to the rest of the nation was more Democratic.

The next section will compare this map with similar images derived from previous Democratic coalitions.


Virginia GOP, Clueless about Climate

How clueless can one be? Well if you're the Virginia Republican Party, the answer is very. The Virginia Republican Party has released the above video suggesting that since there's a massive snow storm on the way, there's no global warming.

As Peter Sinclair notes that's quite the "jewel" of deductive reasoning.

Is the difference between weather and climate not understood? How can anyone be so scientifically illiterate?

Dems Win Virginia Special Election in GOP District

In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell carried Virginia's 37th Senate district by a 56.8 percent to 43.0 percent margin during his successful gubernatorial bid. Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who at the time represented the district, also carried the district with 53.8 percent of the vote. But when Virginians went to the polls today to elect a replacement for Cuccinelli in a race expected to go to the Republicans, something strange happened.

Defying recent voting trends that saw several Northern Virginia Republicans win big in November, Del. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax) won a special election Tuesday night to represent a broad swath of southwestern Fairfax County in the Virginia Senate.

Marsden, a two-term delegate from Burke who switched political parties earlier this decade while serving as the head of the state Department of Juvenile Justice under both Republican and Democratic governors, won the 37th state Senate seat vacated by Attorney General-elect Kenneth T. Cuccinelli (R) by rallying a voter base reeling from big losses in November's statewide and House races.

The vote solidifies the Democrats' majority in the Virginia state Senate, 22-18, helping ensure the party has a say when the time comes to redistrict the state following the 2010 census. But even more immediately, the election indicates that despite all the prognosticating from the Beltway press, the political environment may not be nearly as toxic for the Democrats as some would have you believe.

GOP Loses Another Key Recruit

Gotta wonder when the Beltway press will realize that Republicans are losing key candidates, too.

House Republican officials won't be landing their top candidate to oppose Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) in the state's southwestern 9th district.

Terry Kilgore (R), a member of Virginia's House of Delegates, told The Washington Post Thursday that family considerations and his seniority in Richmond influenced his decision.


Republican strategists have said that Boucher is politically vulnerable because of his votes for the Democrats' economic stimulus and cap-and-trade energy bills and because Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell (R) dominated the 9th district vote in the November 2009 election.

Virginia's 9th Congressional district, where the GOP just lost their top recruit, tends to lean about 11 points more Republican than the nation as a whole. In 2008, John McCain carried the district by a 59 percent to 40 percent margin, and in 2009 Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell carried the district by a 66.4 percent to 33.6 percent margin. In other words, this is about as GOP-friendly a district as they come. Yet Republicans can't even get their favored candidate to jump in the race when their "strategists" believe the Democratic incumbent is vulnerable? 


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