Competitive contests in the House of Delegates

general assemblyAll 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election this fall, although not all seats are contested. According to The Virginia Public Access Project, 56 of the 100 seats have at least two candidates. In an article last week, Geoffrey Skelley of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, comes to the conclusion that only 19 of these seats are competitive races. Interestingly enough, 19 is the number that Democrats need to take control of the House, a feat Skelly describes as “virtually impossible.” Democrats may gain five seats, give or take, according to Skelley.

While it is easy to jump to the competitive contests, more interesting is the analysis by Skelley as to why the Democrats have a hard time in these elections, despite having voted for Obama twice, and having both U.S. Senators who are Democrats. All of this is old hat to those who follow politics closely but I don’t think it is as well known outside of that group. Skelley points to these reasons:

  • “…the electorate in Virginia’s off-year state elections looks very different from the state’s electorate in presidential elections.” A lot of the federal voters stay at home, resulting in an electorate that is “wealthier and older, and therefore tends to be whiter and more conservative.”
  • Democrats are not geographically diverse. “Virginia Democrats suffer from being inefficiently distributed across the state, especially minority voters who are heavily concentrated in central cities.”
  • Redistricting. “The party that controls the redistricting process is always going to help itself, regardless of the party.” House Republicans did a masterful job of this, Senate Democrats not so much.
  • The candidates themselves. “Even with the huge voter drop-off in off-year elections, it would still be hard for Republicans to control some of these districts where Obama won unless the GOP candidates fit their constituencies to a decent degree.” I think this is actually a better reason than the one in which Skelley declares that Republicans run stronger candidates.

Of the 19 races mentioned as competitive, just two are in Hampton Roads, both of which feature incumbents running for re-election for the first time:

  • 93rd – Mike Watson* versus Monty Mason
  • 94th – David Yancey* versus Robert Farinholt

The 7/15/13 financial reports bear this out.

Just because a race is not considered competitive now doesn’t mean it won’t be competitive by Election Day. I think there are at least two other Hampton Roads contests that will be competitive. We’ll have a better idea once the next round of financial reports are released.