General Assembly Election Outlook: How Do You Spell "Momentum"? Sometimes, By The NumbersAug 30, 2011
Over the last two weeks we've had an earthquake, Irene has come and gone, and a massive fire at Great Dismal Swamp (which Irene mostly put out). It's been the earth, wind and fire of terrestrial life. Somewhere in there we've had political tremors and wind and fire storms called primaries. But now that the field is set, what is the outlook for November? Of course, anything can happen and events change the dynamics of all campaigns. But here is where we stand right now: First, this may be the most clear cut legislative election in Virginia history (see AP). By and large, the Republican nominees — even Senate candidates — are adherents to the limited government renaissance. The Democrats, by contrast, are moving further to the left, as evidenced by the clout of its Progressive Caucus (see The Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog).
Second, there is clear momentum on the GOP side and the reversal of circumstances from four years ago is remarkable. Then, Republicans suffering from an unpopular president, were coming off gubernatorial and congressional losses in successive elections, then lost the Virginia Senate in 2007. Democrats had momentum, numerous candidates (which allowed them to play on the GOP's electoral map), favorable districts due to demographic shifts and a sitting governor raising piles of money for them. In practically every respect, the opposite is true this year (see John Gizzi at Human Events), including the money race (see Richmond Times-Dispatch), although the newly redrawn Senate districts can be anyone's guess (some went for Governor Bob McDonnell in 2009, but that was an extraordinary year).
This political environment is more than coincidence or a quirk of history. It has real meaning in that voters don't have a change of heart so soon, especially with a high profile failures coming from the party in power in Washington. It normally takes a few cycles for voters to send a message. But what is reflected in all of these elements is the numbers game and that makes the most compelling case for a possible Republican victory (see this Republican Party of Virginia memo).
In the House of Delegates, the numbers are staggering. Currently, there are 59 Republicans and two independents who caucus with them for a total of 61. Of the 59, 52 are seeking re-election, two are running for the Senate (Dave Nutter and Bill Carrico) and five are retiring, while one of the independents (Lacey Putney) is running and the other (Watkins Abbitt) is retiring.
The Democrats have 39 delegates, but three lost their districts in redistricting to Northern Virginia's population growth. Two of the those are retiring and the other, caucus leader Ward Armstrong, has moved to challenge a Republican incumbent. The Democrats also had two members retire and one run for the Senate (Adam Ebbin). Only 33 are running for re-election.
All together, there are 14 open seats in the House of Delegates: three created by redistricting, three by Democrat retirements, seven by Republicans retirements, and one by an independent retiring. Here's the imposing hurdle for Democrats: Governor McDonnell won 13 of these districts in 2009 and Republicans have candidates in all 13 of those races. Democrats have candidates in 10 of the 14 open seat races. Of the 52 Republican Delegates running for re-election, only nine face Democrat challengers (17 percent). Of the 33 Democrats running for re-election, seven will face Republican challengers (21 percent). Republicans have candidates running in 74 of the 100 House districts. The Democrats have candidates running in only 53 of the 100 districts, virtually assuring GOP maintenance of power. Of the Republican challengers, three are in districts that Governor McDonnell won.
The Senate is much more competitive, but the numbers still appear to trend Republican. The GOP currently holds 18 of the 40 seats. Two seats of those were moved to Northern and Central Virginia during redistricting. One of those affected, Fred Quayle, retired. The other, Bill Stanley, moved into the 20th District to run against Democrat incumbent Roscoe Reynolds. But most of Senator Stanley's old district is in the new 20th. With an additional retirement, Republicans have 15 incumbents running for re-election.
The Democrats have 22 seats in the current Senate with two retiring. There are five open seats, two created by redistricting, two by Democrat retirements, and one by a Republican retirement (William Wampler). Both parties have nominees in all five of the open seat races. Governor McDonnell won three of these districts with at least 64 percent of the vote. Of the 15 Republican Senators running for re-election, only three have Democrat opposition (20 percent).
Of the 20 Democrat senators running for re-election, 16 have Republican challengers (80 percent). Governor McDonnell won 11 of these 16 districts, including three by more than 60 percent. The GOP has candidates running in 36 of the 40 districts. The Democrats have candidates running in only 27 of the 40 districts.
For Republicans to regain the Senate, it needs to re-elect all 16 of its incumbents, the open 40th district seat (which Governor McDonnell won with 75 percent of the vote), the two new seats created by redistricting (Governor McDonnell won both with more than 64 percent), and at least one of the 16 races where it is challenging a Democrat incumbent. That makes it 20-20, with Lt. Governor Bill Bolling the tie-breaking vote. Winning two of the 16 gives the GOP an outright majority.
Only 12 incumbent Republican members of the General Assembly (House or Senate) face a Democrat challenger. Out of the 140 total seats, Republican are running 109 and the Democrats 81 (see more compelling statistics here). Sometimes spelling is done with numbers. In this case, they spell "momentum and enthusiasm" (see Washington Times) and both seem to be with the Republicans. Return here often as we profile individual campaigns throughout the fall.