Virginia’s 2010 Congressional Races: First Look

Virginia, along with four other states (Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and West Virginia), will have no statewide elections on the ballot in 2010, which will leave it up to the candidates for House of Representatives to turn out voters. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only other race on the ballot in the state will be the Virginia Beach City Council and School Board (unlike most cities, who have municipal elections in the spring, Virginia Beach moved theirs to November last year), barring an unforeseen special election occurring next year. That said, I thought I’d take an early look at how these House races are shaping up.

1st Congressional District

Incumbent: Rob Wittman (Republican elected in 2007)

2008 Result: Rob Wittman 56.6%, Bill Day 41.8%

Wittman won easily in a 2007 special election to follow the late Jo Ann Davis, and had a comfortable victory last year in a district that went for McCain by 4%. Democrats had trouble fielding a candidate, with the original nominee, Dr. Keith Hummel, dropping out at the end of July after it was discovered he failed to disclose past financial problems. Democrats picked Bill Day, who previously had run for the House of Delegates in Prince William County, as a replacement in early August, and he performed respectably considering he had three months to put together a campaign.

This cycle, Wittman has not one but two Democratic opponents, software programmer Krystal Ball and a retired Army officer, Col. Scott Robinson. Robinson is striking a more centrist tone while Ball is running as an outspoken progressive, which puts Democrats in a bind, having to choose between a candidate that is more electable but who may not fire up the base, or a more liberal alternative who may have trouble appealing to swing voters.

Wittman had a huge fundraising advantage in 2008, raising $1 million compared to Day’s $217k. This cycle so far, his advantage is less pronounced: as of the third quarter, Wittman has raised $444k with $298k on hand, while Ball has raised $303k with $206k on hand, and Robinson has raised $173k with $139k on hand.

Given that this is a Republican district and Wittman is running in a good Republican year, he has obvious structural advantages, but given two potentially strong challengers, it’s still a Race to Watch.

2nd Congressional District

Incumbent: Glenn Nye (Democrat elected in 2008)

2008 Result: Glenn Nye 52.4%, Thelma Drake 47.5%

Thanks to Obama’s coattails (he won the district by 2%, with a vote total of about 400 more than Nye), Nye was able to defeat two-term Bush loyalist Thelma Drake. Nye has been following a mostly centrist path, voting with Democrats on social issues such as Lily Ledbetter, the Matthew Shepard Act, and opposing the Stupak amendment, but voting against major Democratic proposals like ACES and health care reform. Nye’s breaking with the party line on these issues has caused a lot of resentment among the Democratic base in the district, creating speculation about a primary challenge from the left.

Not only does Nye have to worry about the left, he’s got plenty of competition from the right, as well. Five Republicans have already jumped in the race to oppose Nye next year; the top two are car dealership magnate Scott Rigell and entrepreneur Ben Loyola, both of which have the ability to self-fund. Other Republicans in the race are former Virginia Beach Republican Party chair Chuck Smith, and ex-Navy SEALs Scott Taylor (who ran for mayor in 2008 as well) and Ed Maulbeck.

One wildcard in the race is conservative Glenn Beck 912er Doug Hutchison, the third former Navy SEAL in this race. Hutchison is running as an independent, which could siphon votes off from the Republican nominee.

As far as fundraising goes, Nye has raised $900k with $726k on hand as of the third quarter, while Scott Taylor has raised $453k with $412k on hand (half of which was from his own pocket), and Ben Loyola has raised $548k with $537k on hand, almost all of which was from self-funding. The other candidates have not raised an appreciable amount.

Nye is going to have a tough time striking a path that is moderate enough not to alienate independents while keeping the Democratic base happy, making this race a Tossup.

3rd Congressional District

Incumbent: Bobby Scott (Democrat elected in 1992)

2008 Result: Bobby Scott was unopposed

Bobby Scott has represented the 3rd district ever since it was redrawn to be majority-black following the 1990 census, and hasn’t had a serious Republican challenger in his career. The closest election he’s faced was in 2004, when he defeated Winsome Sears, an African-American Republican who served one term in the House of Delegates, by a 69-31 margin. In five of his nine elections to the House, he has faced no Republican. This year, Coby Dillard, a Navy vet who worked for Bob McDonnell’s gubernatorial campaign, is exploring a run. It’s unlikely he’ll make this race anywhere near close, regardless of how badly things go for the Democrats next year — Obama pulled in 76% here in 2008, and Creigh Deeds still managed to win this district with 65% despite getting crushed statewide. This seat will remain Safe Democratic.

4th Congressional District

Incumbent: Randy Forbes (Republican elected in 2001)

2008 Result: Randy Forbes 59.5%, Andrea Miller 40.4%

Forbes narrowly won a special election to replace the late Norm Sisisky in 2001, defeating State Sen. Louise Lucas by a 52-48 margin. Following that, Republicans cut heavily-Democratic Portsmouth out of the district and Forbes has been safe ever since, facing Democrats only two times out of his four re-election contests. The best time to take on Forbes would have been 2008: Barack Obama narrowly carried this district by about 1.5%, and Forbes was held to a 60-40 margin over Andrea Miller, who barely raised any money. This has left Forbes’ campaign coffers nearly empty; this cycle, he’s raised $215k with $161k on hand. Unfortunately, without Barack Obama on the ticket to drive black turnout in the district, and a lack of a Democratic bench, it’s unlikely that Forbes will face a strong challenge this year, so this will be Safe Republican.

5th Congressional District

Incumbent: Tom Perriello (Democrat elected in 2008)

2008 Result: Tom Perriello 50.1%, Virgil Goode 49.9%

Perriello scored the biggest 2008 upset in Virginia, toppling six-term incumbent Virgil Goode by a 727 vote margin even as John McCain carried the district by 2%. Perriello has not struck the cautious, centrist tone that Glenn Nye has, voting in favor of most major Democratic initiatives, although he has taken a few votes, such as opposing the new tobacco regulations and voting for the Stupak amendment, that concede to the conservative nature of the 5th. He will not likely face the same problems Glenn Nye is facing among the Democratic base, but his willingness to support the President’s initiatives may hurt him with independent voters, given the hard shift to the right with that group in the gubernatorial election.

Republicans have had Perriello in their sights ever since his victory was confirmed. No less than six Republicans are vying for the nomination to replace him, but State Sen. Robert Hurt from the southwestern end of the district is the likely nominee. The band of unknowns trying to win the nomination include Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd, businessmen Ron Ferrin and Laurence Verga, teacher Feda Kidd Morton, and pilot Michael McPadden. Hurt may face a hurdle given some of his votes in the legislature, such as his support of Mark Warner’s budget that included a tax increase, but he will have, if not all, then most of the institutional Republican support for the nomination.

Like in the 2nd, things are somewhat complicated by the entry of a conservative independent candidate, this time factory employee Bradley Rees. Hurt may be (pardon the pun) hurt by Rees if there is lingering Republican resentment over his insufficiently-right-wing-enough voting record.

Perriello got an early jump on fundraising; as of Q3, he’s raised $725k with $618k on hand. Hurt jumped into the race in late October, so he hasn’t had to file any reports yet; among the other candidates, nobody has raised any appreciable amount of money. Regardless, this will be the toughest battle in Virginia in 2010, so it remains a Tossup.

6th Congressional District

Incumbent: Bob Goodlatte (Republican elected in 1992)

2008 Result: Bob Goodlatte 61.6%, Sam Rasoul 36.6%

Goodlatte represents the bright-red Shenandoah Valley, a district that John McCain won by 15% in 2008. In his career, he’s only faced Democratic opponents four times; his closest election was when he was initially elected, and he defeated Stephen Musselwhite by a 60-40 margin. Democrats, unsurprisingly, don’t have a candidate, and I don’t expect things to change here; this is a Safe Republican seat.

7th Congressional District

Incumbent: Eric Cantor (Republican elected in 2000)

2008 Result: Eric Cantor 62.7%, Anita Hartke 37.1%

Like Goodlatte, Cantor represents a solidly Republican district; McCain won here by 7%, and the only reason it was that close was Obama’s above-average performance in the Richmond suburbs. Anita Hartke’s performance here was the best for any Democrat running against Cantor in his Congressional career, and most of that is probably attributable to the aforementioned performance by Obama; Hartke only raised about $75k. Cantor’s potential opponent, Charlie Diradour, opted out of a run after a few months of exploring a race, probably because he found no traction in the district. As the Republican Whip, Cantor will always be loathed by the Democratic base in the district; unfortunately, that base only amounts to 30-35% of the vote. If Democrats find someone to run against him, it won’t matter, as this race will remain Safe Republican.

8th Congressional District

Incumbent: Jim Moran (Democrat elected in 1990)

2008 Result: Jim Moran 67.9%, Mark Ellmore 29.7%

Jim Moran represents the solidly Democratic inner NoVa suburbs (in a district won by Obama with nearly 70%, and also won by Deeds with 61% despite his landslide loss), and has consistently been re-elected by double-digit margins every time he has gone back to the voters. It’s more likely that he would be knocked out in a primary, due to his history of controversial statements and his involvement with PMA, but the only potential candidate currently looking to challenge him is Ronald Mitchell, a political unknown. Republicans don’t have a candidate yet, but they undoubtedly will, as they always find someone to take up the unenviable task of running against him in this Safe Democratic district.

9th Congressional District

Incumbent: Rick Boucher (Democrat elected in 1982)

2008 Result: Rick Boucher was unopposed

Although in the past Rick Boucher has easily managed to be re-elected time and time again despite the otherwise Republican lean of the district, he has to be sweating bullets now. In the 2009 election, a Democratic Delegate in a historically-Democratic part of SWVA was defeated. This particular district voted for Creigh Deeds by a 53-47 margin in 2005, but voted for McDonnell by a 69-31 margin in 2009.

Boucher did himself no favors by voting for ACES in a region dependent on coal for jobs, and Republicans are looking for someone to challenge him in 2010. Terry Kilgore, the Republican Caucus Chair of the House of Delegates, would be their top recruit, and he’s thinking about it. If Kilgore gets in, this race becomes a tossup; if another Republican gets in, it’ll still be heavily contested. The only actual announced opponent to Boucher so far is yet another conservative independent, Jeremiah Heaton.

Boucher has amassed a war chest of $1.7 million, and he’ll probably need it, but until Republicans come up with a candidate this will be a Race to Watch.

10th Congressional District

Incumbent: Frank Wolf (Republican elected in 1980)

2008 Result: Frank Wolf 58.8%, Judy Feder 38.8%

When drawn, the 10th was a Republican district, but thanks to the explosive growth in Northern Virginia, it has moved more to the center. Tim Kaine and Jim Webb scored narrow wins in the district, and Barack Obama won a 7% victory here in 2008. Despite this trend to the Democrats, Frank Wolf remains solidly entrenched in the district, easily defeating well-funded opponent Judy Feder in 2006 and 2008. This has left his campaign account nearly empty; this cycle he has only raised $284k with $233k on hand. Democrats have a dearth of potential candidates in this district: State Sen. Mark Herring and Loudoun County Supervisor Stevens Miller could be strong challengers, but are unlikely to make a run against Wolf. The one Democratic candidate who is running that I’ve found is Dennis Findley, an architect from McLean. Until Wolf retires, this will remain Safe Republican.

11th Congressional District

Incumbent: Gerry Connolly (Democrat elected in 2008)

2008 Result: Gerry Connolly 54.7%, Keith Fimian 43.0%

Tom Davis’s retirement made this one of the most likely Democratic pickups in 2008. Although Davis was able to hold the district, its trend towards the Democrats culminated in a 15% victory for Barack Obama in 2008. Gerry Connolly, a longtime member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (including 5 years as its chairman), won a comfortable double-digit victory over Keith Fimian, a businessman; Fimian actually spent slightly more money than Connolly did in the race, having the benefit of his personal wealth to help finance his campaign. He’s back for a rematch, but seems to be relying on donations this time, as he trails Connolly in fundraising. Connolly has raised $715k with $545k on hand, while Fimian has raised $311k with $264k on hand, only $55k of which was a loan.

Connolly has staked out a position as a loyal Democrat, having voted consistently to support President Obama’s initiatives, so he shouldn’t face any real pushback from the Democratic base (except for one blogger who shall not be named). If there is significant antipathy towards Obama, though, he could face trouble from independents. However, Fimian has been cozying up to the teabaggers, which may not play well with the moderate-minded voters of the 11th district. For now, this race remains Likely Democratic; it’s not in the bag for Connolly, especially since the Republican ticket did win here in 2009, but he’s definitely the favorite one year out.

93 thoughts on “Virginia’s 2010 Congressional Races: First Look”

  1. Nye has been following a mostly centrist path, voting with Democrats on social issues such as Lily Ledbetter, the Matthew Shepard Act, and opposing the Stupak amendment, but voting against major Democratic proposals like ACES and health care reform.

    at least as his district includes the home of (Pat Robertson’s) Regent University.  

  2. I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom that 2010 will be good for the Republicans. House Republicans haven’t done themselves any favors in 2009. If anything, timid centrist Democrats like Nye, Adler and Kratovil will be in trouble in 2010 while gutsy liberals like Perriello, Gryason and Massa will get reelected easily. Perriello is the best (only?) up-and-coming Democrat in Virginia, he should get first dibs the next time the Democrats need a candidate for a statewide election. Democrats strongly contest the 1st and 4th as those regions are trending left. Although I agree that Wolf is safe and his district won’t flip until he retires. Krystal Ball could be next year’s Perriello, an exciting young liberal running where Democrats aren’t supposed to win. Her opponent’s only accomplishments so far are trying to obstruct the stimulus and trying to obstruct the public option.

  3. But they are trending in the same direction. In 10 years any Congressional district with a large portion of its population in the Hampton Roads region will be represented by a Democrat.

  4. Virginia 1,4,6,7,10- Safe Repub

    Virginia 3,8- Safe Dem

    Virginia 11- Democrat favored (I’d almost say safe)

    Virginia 2-Tossup

    Virginia 5-Republican favored

    Virginia 9-Republican Favored if Kilgore gets in, Tossup if a second string opponent gets in, Lean Democrat (barely, might even be tossup) against Heaton.

  5. with two districts that Al Gore won. Kerry did better in the 11th, but still lost it. Boucher’s district has been on borrowed time for a while. . .

  6. I believe he’s less dependent on coattails. If you look at the raw vote totals, Nye and Obama had virtually the same number of votes in each locality, except for Norfolk, where Obama got about 468 more votes than Nye. On the other hand, Perriello did appreciably better in the northern part of VA-05 than Obama, most notably winning over 2,000 more votes than Obama in Albemarle County. He also did better in Bedford, Campbell, Fluvanna, and Greene. Of course, Obama did better in the southern part of the district than Perriello, particularly in Danville, Halifax, and Mecklenburg.

  7. of conservative independent challengers in the 2nd, 5th and 9th districts.  The more traction they gain, siphoning off GOP votes in the process, the better.  

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