Cross posted on http://racesandredistricting.blogspot.com/ which has more election analysis.
2013 is an odd numbered year which means that there are no major U.S. House, Senate or Presidential elections (except for a few specials) so it is a relatively quiet year. There are two major Gubernatorial elections though and those are in New Jersey and Virginia. In New Jersey, the RCP average shows Republican incumbent Chris Christie ahead by 25 points due to goodwill from his Hurricane Sandy response (the effects still impact New Jersey today.) Virginia though has a streak of not electing a Governor of the same party as the incumbent President since the 1970s but a combination of factors look to break that streak. Virginia's demographic changes in Northern Virginia as well as Republican Gubernatorial candidate State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's (R) stands on social issues are helping former DNC chair and friend of the Clintons Terry McAuliffe (D) lead Cuccinelli in every poll since July (even polls conducted by Republican leaning firms such as Rasmussen.) The final PPP poll (PPP is known for its accuracy) shows McAuliffe leading by seven. Cuccinelli also seems to have realized he is in trouble, he recently tweeted that "the only poll that matters is Election Day." This is one of the six things losing candidates say according to well known political analyst Staurt Rotheberg. Others include "I'm the next Scott Brown" and "My son is running my campaign."
The two other statewide offices up for a vote in Virginia are Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. For Lieutenant Governor, State Senator Ralph Northam (D) is posting double digit leads. Those leads grow as Virginian voters learn more and more about his opponent E.W. Jackson's views which include that "gay people are perverted and psychologically sick" and that Planned Parenthood is the "KKK." When a reporter asked Jackson why he made these statements, he pretends he never said them. That strategy however is not working as Northam continues to lead (the final PPP poll shows Northam ahead by 13.)
The Attorney General's race is much closer though where it is a contest between two State Senators named Mark. The Democrat, Mark Herring (D) is from Loudon County, the main bellwether county in Virginia (since 2001, only one Virginia general election candidate has won without carrying Loudon County.) Herring's record includes working on fixing transportation issues and bringing tech jobs to Northern Virginia. His opponent, Mark Obenshain (R) is from the Shenandoah Valley, one of the most conservative areas in Virginia. While the other two statewide offices are locked up for the Democrats, this race has been close, mainly because Obershain is more moderate than Cuccinelli and Jackson. The Attorney General race is important policywise if there is a lawsuit against the gay marriage ban because the Attorney General can decide not to defend the ban. Also, the Attorney General of Virginia is important for other issues. For example, Cuccinelli in 2010 sued the U.S. Government over the Affordable Care Act and brought the case to the Supreme Court. The final PPP poll shows Herring leading by 2 and while PPP is almost always accurate, they have been off by 2 points in a few races (the 2010 Florida Gubernatorial race is one example. PPP showed Alex Sink leading by 1 point and she lost by 1 point.)
This post overall will be devoted to dividing up the areas in Virginia and explaining how well Herring needs to perform in order to win.
(map is courtesy of U.S. Census Quick facts. The author is responsible for coloring the regions. I am sorry about the formatting, click on the map for the full picture.)
Virginia can be divided into 7 regions:
1. Inner core (Dark Blue)
2. 1st Ring suburbs (Light Blue)
3. 2nd Ring suburbs (Purple)
4. Exurbs (Red)
5. Tidewater/Hampton Roads (Green)
6. Richmond Area (Yellow)
7. Rural Virginia (Gray)
The Inner core:
The Inner core includes Arlington and Alexandria, the first areas to experience suburban growth from Washington D.C. in the 1970s. These areas have large numbers of well educated professionals, many of them white. D.C. is famous for having 80%+ of its white voters voting Democratic and many of those voters have moved to Arlington and Alexandria.
These voters fit McAuliffe's business and D.C. connection profile well and while he will overperform in Virginia as a whole, there needs to be high turnout here to carry Herring over the top.
1st Ring suburbs:
Fairfax County would constitute that 1st ring of suburbs. The voters here are also mainly well educated professionals who are socially liberal and fiscally moderate. There is a fast growing immigrant community of Hispanics and Asians in Fairfax County. Back in the 1980s and the 1990s, Fairfax County grew as families (including mine,) left Washington D.C. Fairfax County used to be a heavily Republican bastion that even Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton failed to win. In 2004 though, Fairfax County voted Democratic Presidentially for the first time in decades with Kerry winning 53% of the vote. Part of this was due to the trend among socially liberal suburbanites toward the Democrats as the Republicans shifted right on cultural issues. The influx of Asians and Hispanics helped the Democrats even further while the more conservative voters moved out into the exurbs and the 2nd ring.
McAuliffe should overperform here because he is the kind of Democrat that this area will support. He is white collar, well educated, a successful businessman and he has ties to Washington (many of the residents here are involved in the Government.) Northern Virginia is famous for propelling these kinds of Democrats such as Mark Warner (D) in the 2001 Gubernatorial race and Jim Webb (D) in his 2006 Senatorial race to victory in extremely close races. If a Republican emphasizes the economy and his business credentials though, they can win as Bob McDonnell (R) showed when he won Fairfax County in 2009. McAuliffe though is the right fit for this area and Cuccenelli's social issues extremism should hurt him here. McAuliffe could win about 65% of the vote here if he wins more than 55% statewide. Cuccenelli though is a former State Senator from Fairfax County so it will be important to see whether latent goodwill here will trump over his social extremism. Expect a Herring win of 58% or higher if Herring wins the election.
2nd ring suburbs:
Prince William and Loudoun County used to be heavily Republican counties but have become bellwethers. The counties themselves are both swing counties but are very different from each other. Loudoun County is very upscale (a 100k income here is considered average,) is 65% White with the other 35% mainly being a mix between Hispanics and Asians. The Democrats here are socially liberal while the Republicans here are economic conservatives similar to the Wall Street voter (there are a few evangelicals in the western part of the county but their presence is diminishing.) In Prince William County, the scene is different with many evangelicals and Hispanics and African Americans. President Obama won 57% here in 2012 due to the turnout among African Americans and Hispanics but this should not be taken for granted as a Democratic area. Turnout rates among minorities usually drop in non Presidential elections.
For Dems: In 2012, President Obama won Loudon County (albeit very narrowly) even though Romney connected with the upscale economic conservatives due to the area's large Asian vote swinging strongly for Obama. McAuliffe can overperform Obama among the economic conservatives and Loudon County is the perfect county to test if Obershain is associated enough with Cuccenelli. In Prince William County, McAuliffe must increase turnout among the African Americans and Hispanics who are the main Dem voter base there. Prince William formerly was a bellwether but seems to be moving in the Dem direction faster than the rest of the state.
This area includes Fauquier, Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties. These are counties boarding the 2nd ring suburbs of Washington D.C. They are a mix of rural and new subdivisions. Unlike the inner suburbs, these areas are less diverse and have more in common with rural Virginia than they do with Fairfax County. These areas are not as Republican as other exurban areas are including the Atlanta suburbs but they still lean in a Republican direction.
For Dems: Although voters here are not socially liberal, it is possible McAuliffe can win Stafford or Spotsylvania Counties if Cuccinelli's implosion in the polls translates into votes. Herring should not expect to win any counties here but should be able to at least reach the mid 40s in Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties. If he is unable to do so, it will be problematic for him.
Tidewater Virginia is also known as the Hampton Roads Region. This area has a strong military presence and a large African American population, creating a perfect swing area. The major Democratic areas are Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton and Newport News while the more Republican areas are York County and Virginia Beach. The swing areas are Suffolk and Chesapeake. President Obama won both areas in his 2008 and 2012 elections and barely lost Virginia Beach both times. In 2004, Kerry lost both areas, however. Democrats such as Senator Tim Kaine (D) have done well here too while the African American population turned out strongly for President Obama.
Herring needs to win Suffolk and come within 1-2 points in Chesapeake. Republicans may overperform here a little bit because McAuliffe does not have the same appeal among African American voters that President Obama did which caused them to turnout in high numbers for him and therefore help other Dems such as Kaine in 2012. Kaine in 2005 still performed well here despite average African American turnout levels because he was able to win over swing voters here though. This is very doable for Herring because of the Government shutdown which Cuccenelli supported. Government employment is high here so the shutdown is a major issue and with the shutdown ending less than a month before the election, this issue hurts Republicans.
The Richmond metropolitan area appears similar to the Hampton Roads demographically at first with a large African American population but many of the white voters here are more upscale and not associated with the military. In 2008 and 2012, President Obama overperformed here due to the high African American turnout which will not be as high in 2013 but the white voters here are not as socially conservative as rural white voters so it is possible that the swing voters here will break strongly for the Dems.
Henrico County is the bellwether county here, it used to be heavily Republican but African American voters moving in there from Richmond have caused it to become a swing county (and even a few points more Dem in certain elections such as the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections.) Herring needs to win Henrico County, the last Democrat to win statewide and lose Henrico County was Jim Webb in 2006.
Rural Virginia is a large area and while a few parts of it are Democratic (Charlottesville with UVA in Central Virginia, a few counties in Southeast Virginia with high African American populations,) it is primarily Republican. It is trending that way too. For example, Buchannan County in Southwest Virginia voted 66% for Romney but voted for Kerry in 2004. The area is socially conservative so unless McAuliffe decimates Cuccinelli, Buchannan County should stay Republican. The white voters in rural Virginia are mostly conservative and in southwest Virginia (this area is demographically similar to West Virginia with working class white voters who are trending Republican,) are becoming more Republican. This area one could say has more in common with Alabama than with Fairfax County.
For Dems: Rural Virginia is the Republican base so Democrats should not expect to carry it unless McAuliffe has a large double digit win. The bellwether county for Herring is Montgomery County where Virginia Tech is located. Montgomery County is in Southwest Virginia but the college voters in Virginia Tech have helped the county become a swing county.
Overall, while watching the election results, here are a few tips to keep in mind while watching for the Attorney General race.
1. Is McAuliffe winning by extremely high single digits or double digits? If so, this is good news for Herring.
2. Is Herring performing well in Loudon County? While Loudon County normally is a bellwether, Herring needs to overperform there because it is his home and he will probably receive a regional bounce.
3. Is Herring winning Henrico County? If he is, it means that the African American turnout is high and he is winning over enough Richmond area white voters.
Keep these in mind in order to determine who the next Attorney General of Virginia will be.