Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia.

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia.

The Virginia elections are just around the corner. Will Democrats take control of the General Assembly?

Demographic shifts — and the voter turnout of different demographic groups — point to a strong Democratic performance this fall.

Plus, some candidates are grappling with campaigning to new voters after a panel of judges ruled that 11 districts in the Virginia House of Delegates had been racially gerrymandered last year. As a result, 25 districts were redrawn, pushing six comfortably Republican districts into Democratic-leaning territory.

What will the changing demographics and redrawn districts mean for control of the General Assembly this November? And how are demographic changes taking form in Fairfax County and other areas of Northern Virginia?

Produced by Cydney Grannan


  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
  • Bob Gibson Communications Director, University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service; @bobgibsoncville
  • Brent Tarter Author of "Gerrymanders: How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia"; Retired historian and senior editor at the Library of Virginia
  • Tim Hannigan Chairman, Fairfax County Republican Committee; @FairfaxGOP

Read the first chapter of "Gerrymanders"


  • 12:00:18

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tune in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast a look at D.C.'s rent control law and how it's affecting affordable housing. But first, the Virginia elections are just around the corner. Over the next few weeks we'll be covering topics relevant to the 2019 Virginia elections. This week what do changing demographics and the newly redrawn districts mean for the Commonwealth's 2019 elections. And what can we learn from Virginia's history of gerrymandering. Joining me in studio is Tom Sherwood. He's our Resident Analyst and a Contributing Writer for "Washington City Paper." Tom Sherwood, welcome.

  • 12:00:54

    TOM SHERWOODGood Wednesday afternoon.

  • 12:00:56

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Tim Hannigan. He is the Chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. Tim Hannigan, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:03

    TIM HANNIGANThank you for the opportunity.

  • 12:01:04

    NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone is Bob Gibson, the Communications Director at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Bob Gibson, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:15

    BOB GIBSONThank you, Kojo. It's always good to join you.

  • 12:01:16

    NNAMDIBob Gibson, let's start with you. This is one of the most highly anticipated off off year elections one can remember. Remind us what an off off year election is and why this one is so important for Virginia and the country.

  • 12:01:28

    GIBSONWell, Virginia votes in odd years more than most other states. And this year, we're the only state that has a legislature that is capable changing party hands this election cycle. It also is an off off year, because there is no statewide candidate. There are only the local candidates for county supervisors and other local offices plus the 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly, 40 in the Virginia Senate and 100 in the House of Delegates, and those seats right now are very closely contested. The control of the House of Delegates has a two vote majority for the Republicans at the moment, and the State Senate a one vote majority for the Republicans, and all of that could change on November 5th.

  • 12:02:15

    NNAMDIHow have demographics in Virginia changed over the past five or 10 years, Bob?

  • 12:02:19

    GIBSONWell, look at it this way. There are states to our north that are sending large numbers of new Virginia residents to us from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut. Those are the top five states that send new residents into Virginia. And Virginia is sending its departing residents to states to the south. North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida and Texas are the top five states the Virginians are moving to, but we also have a tremendous demographic shift in terms of our foreign born population. We have one Virginian in every nine born in a foreign country. In 1970 it was one in 100. So you can see the tremendous change in Virginia's demographics, as start more and more politically resembling the states to our north.

  • 12:03:10

    SHERWOODBob, this is Tom Sherwood. Welcome to the program. I think I last saw you in the early 80s in Richmond at one of the General Assembly meetings.

  • 12:03:18

    NNAMDIWhen you both had hair, but that's another story.

  • 12:03:19

    SHERWOODYes, we will -- more hair. I want to add to what you just said. The population since 2000 in Virginia has gone up by 1.5 million people, and the state is a 12 in terms of population. But the Metropolitan -- there's only three major metropolitan areas, of course, Northern Virginia and the Richmond area and the Hampton Roads area. The changing demographics seem to be favoring the Democrats given the ethnic diversity. I talked to Tom Davis the former congressman from Northern Virginia. He talked about Northern Virginia with me this morning. He said Northern Virginia is more secular, more dependent upon federal government and contractors and multiethnic and that the Republican Party he says -- and he was a Republican or is a Republican has not properly addressed that changing demographic.

  • 12:04:11

    GIBSONI think that's true. I think you can look at the numbers that are moving into the state. Since the 2010 census we have gained 149,000 new Virginians from overseas. We've gained 116,000 new Virginians from those five states that I mentioned, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut, over our loss of population. So most of those new Virginians tend to be voting Democratic based on what they're bringing with them and the way they see issues when they move into Virginia. And apparently we're looking at a situation where the counties that are losing population on the south side of Virginia are losing Republican voters. So Virginia is becoming a little more blue every year.

  • 12:05:00

    NNAMDITim Hannigan, have you see what Bob's describing play out in Fairfax County? How have the demographics of Fairfax County shifted and what do you think that will mean in terms of Fairfax County elections?

  • 12:05:10

    HANNIGANTo answer your first question, there's no question there are many more ethnic groups represented at higher percentages across Fairfax County, which I'm very familiar with compared to say 20 years ago. So there's been a great influx that way. You're second question, how does that portend for politics is a different subject. I think at this point the Democrats have been much more successful in reaching these ethnic groups as they've come in, but I quickly must add that that's not necessarily the way it's going to be in the future.

  • 12:05:46

    HANNIGANAnd I think the Republicans had been counting on wins in certain areas and hadn't been as aggressive in some of our grassroots activities and in our reach out to these various groups and in messaging on what are basic Republican principles. And think as we do that the Republican Party is going to be much more welcoming to people from the various ethnic groups that have come in in much greater numbers in Fairfax County.

  • 12:06:16

    SHERWOODYou know, some of the polling is showing that the Republicans are increasingly a white male party. And on the immigration matter, which is going across the entire country, just a few days ago you held a rally outside the police headquarters in Fairfax concerned that there's was an adverse reaction to the police officer, who detained someone for ICE to come get them after I think it was a traffic wreck or something. You had a rally, but in your own party website said almost 100 people showed up for the rally in a county of 1.1 million people. And I know it was a work day, but that's not a huge turnout, is it? And how do you attract legal immigrants here who are voting and members of the community if they see you going after undocumented people here? How do you bridge those two?

  • 12:07:06

    HANNIGANWell, the rally was on short notice. I think we posted information about it the day before. So it was 24 hours' notice and it was a Saturday afternoon where we called for that. So I don't think it was unreasonable to expect that we would get too much more than 100 people.

  • 12:07:26

    SHERWOODBut you have in your campaign -- I'm sorry. So go ahead. I don't want to interrupt you. Go, please.

  • 12:07:30

    HANNIGANOn the subject of immigration, I think the Republicans have had a bad rap on that. Republicans, we welcome immigrants and we are very supportive of immigrants. And in fact, you know --

  • 12:07:43

    SHERWOODLegal immigrants.

  • 12:07:44

    HANNIGANLegal immigrants, right. Those are immigrants.

  • 12:07:47

    SHERWOODCorey Stewart didn't have a good run with that position.

  • 12:07:51

    HANNIGANWell, our position is --

  • 12:07:53

    SHERWOODHe ran for the Senate and lost to Tim Kaine.

  • 12:07:55

    HANNIGANRight. No, I'm well aware of that, but the Republicans are very supportive of immigration. What we're against is illegal aliens, people coming in illegally, and part of the reason why we're opposed to that is because there's an enormous amount of expense to the U.S. taxpayer caused by that. And then secondly often it's illegal aliens particularly those that have been detained by the police that when they're released go out and prey in immigrant communities, against the ethnic groups that they are a part of. And so it's a true public safety issue. And I think the Republicans have been far stronger on this issue in protecting legal immigrants than the Democrats.

  • 12:08:46

    NNAMDIWell, just how have Republicans shifted their campaigning and their messaging to meet this kind of new electorate in Fairfax County?

  • 12:08:57

    HANNIGANWe have been first, far more aggressive in the last couple of years in putting out what the Republican principles of individual freedom, of self-reliance, of limited government, which resonates almost universally. Those are the principles that were behind the American Revolution. They have been a beacon of hope not only to Americans over the centuries, but to people throughout the world. And it's interesting just this past year when we had to recruit candidates for the many many positions that are up for election this fall in Fairfax County there were just numerous people from different ethnic groups who came to me seeking to run.

  • 12:09:47

    HANNIGANSo for example, we have 12 school board positions up for election this year in Fairfax County. We have 10 candidates running for those positions. We have a black American. We have women, who immigrated from Mexico. We have somebody of Greek American descent. We have an Indian American, somebody who was born in India and raised there and went to college there. We have a very diverse group. And what always comes through, when I talk to people from various ethnic groups who have shown interest in the Republican Party, is they respect the emphasis on individual freedom, self-reliance, entrepreneurship. In many cases they cite where government has imposed their views in the places where they left.

  • 12:10:38

    NNAMDIWhich is the message that Republicans obviously would like to emphasize, Bob Gibson, the notion of free enterprise, individual freedom, opportunity, but across the Commonwealth, how have you seen Democratic candidates and Republican candidates campaigning differently, because that's not what the Democrats are emphasizing, is it?

  • 12:10:56

    GIBSONNo. They're running on different business issues. The Republicans are running on a traditional protect the business climate of Virginia in terms of taxes and invest in education. And the Democrats are trying to appeal to workers by saying, we will vote for an increase in the minimum wage. We'll vote for more education funding for teachers' salaries. They have a different emphasis. I would ask Tim, the Chairman in Fairfax County why Tim Hugo appears to be the only Republican running for the House of Delegates. There are 12 house districts with no Republican running.

  • 12:11:41

    HANNIGANCorrect. We are at a pretty much of a low point for Republicans in elected office. And so I had a number of people show an interest in running for either the State Senate or the delegates, but when they really took a look at the track record over the last 10, 12 years many of them decided they weren't going to put in the time, energy and resources necessary to win. So it's a tough recruiting environment. On the other hand at the county level, we've experienced strong interest and are fielding very strong candidates, and feel we have a good shot at taking over. Control the school board and doing well with the Board of Supervisors.

  • 12:12:24

    NNAMDII'm shocked, shocked that Tom Sherwood has not yet brought up the Wason Center Poll.

  • 12:12:28

    SHERWOODWell, I was saying -- there's been a Washington Post poll and there's been the Newport University poll, Wason Center poll all showing President Trump, you know, at high 30 approval or disapproval, and it looks like it's going to be quite difficult. Can we ask Mr. Tarter to come into the conversation?

  • 12:12:50

    NNAMDIBrent Tarter is the author of "Gerrymanders: How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia." He's a retired historian and senior editor at the Library of Virginia. He joins us from the studios of VPM in Richmond, Virginia. Brent Tarter, thank you for joining us. Here's Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:13:08

    SHERWOODThe Supreme Court has recently ruled that states can redistrict their legislative district based on political party, but not for racial reasons. You have a new book out about gerrymandering and how that has affected the State of Virginia in not only who gets elected, but what policies are pushed and what policies get passed and how people are held down or lifted up. What are you seeing as we head towards November 5th in terms of gerrymandering and the demographic changes that Kojo first talked about?

  • 12:13:43

    BRENT TARTERWell, thank you for having me. What I see is that the dynamics in Virginia politics have been changing rapidly lately partly because of demographics partly because of economics partly because of shifts of population within the state. And the problem with gerrymandering has complicated that. Briefly what's happened is that the 2011 redistricting of the General Assembly got challenged in federal court on the basis that race played too large a part in drawing the district boundaries for about 12 House of Delegates districts in the corridor between Richmond and Hampton Roads, which is a place where there's a very large African American population. This case was in and out of the federal courts for three or four years. Federal courts ruled that race took too large a part in the considerations of the assembly and that therefore that violated the voting rights act.

  • 12:14:35

    BRENT TARTERThe General Assembly declined to redraw those district lines, after the federal court declared them illegal, and so this spring the federal court simply redistricted those areas. They drew new lines for 12 districts, but that also meant that it affected about 15 neighboring districts. So that it's completely altered the dynamics down here. It even affected me. I'm now in a different house district than I was this time last year, because of the necessity of redrawing those district boundaries.

  • 12:15:07

    SHERWOODLet me just interrupt you. I talked to Tom Davis, again, earlier today and he said that redistricting plan changed the makeup from 51-49 Republican at best to close to something like 53-47 Democratic in those races. And that could have, of course, severely affect what the outcome will be.

  • 12:15:26

    TARTERWell, that's what we don't know. The politicians in the Richmond area are certainly worried. The Republican politicians are certainly worried that they are now at a disadvantage. But on the other hand the Democratic politicians were at a built in disadvantage based on the 2011 redistricting. So it remains to be seen how this plays out. I would like to remind the audience though that this is an extraordinarily important election coming up. It's not only going to determine which party controls the Senate and the House of Delegates for the next two years. It's also going to influence this whole political culture of Virginia for at least the next decade. The legislators we elect in November will redistrict the state in 2021 after the next census.

  • 12:16:13

    TARTERIf one party has a large majority, we might get another partisan gerrymander that builds in an advantage for one group of politicians and a disadvantage for the other group. On the other hand another option in 2020 would be for the General Assembly to submit a proposed constitutional amendment to the voters for ratification to create a bipartisan redistricting commission. That would probably reduce the likelihood of partisan gerrymandering.

  • 12:16:42

    SHERWOODWell, the Democrats win big. They may not want to do that. They said they want to do it.

  • 12:16:46

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this conversation about what changing demographics and redrawn districts could mean for Virginia's off off year 2019 elections. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:17:33

    NNAMDIWelcome back, this is the first in a series of weekly segments that we'll be doing on the upcoming off off year elections in Virginia. We're talking with Tim Hannigan. He is Chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and a Contributing Writer for "Washington City Paper." Bob Gibson is the Communications Director at the University of Virginia's Weldon Copper Center for Public Service. And Brent Tarter is the Author of "Gerrymanders: How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia." Here's Shirley in Alexandria, Virginia. Shirley, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:05

    SHIRLEYHi. I just wanted to say how offended I am by the use of things like "individual freedom" and "the size of the government," as something that only the Republicans care about or are committed to. I mean, individual freedom, obviously, everyone whatever your party is committed to that, and frankly for the Republicans in Virginia to claim that given their stances on LGBTQ policies, excuse me, and on some of the immigration policies is simply such a contradiction to that.

  • 12:18:37

    NNAMDITim Hannigan, defend yourself.

  • 12:18:40

    SHERWOODOr your party.

  • 12:18:41

    NNAMDIOr your party.

  • 12:18:42

    HANNIGANDefend my party. Well, I don't think that the Republicans have been trying to limit the freedoms of anybody. We're trying to expand them and the biggest threat to freedom historically and even locally has been the government and intrusive government policies that inevitably restrict people's freedoms.

  • 12:19:09

    SHERWOODFor example.

  • 12:19:11

    HANNIGANAnd people's initiatives.

  • 12:19:12

    SHERWOODFor example, what government policy intruded on individual freedoms and restricted initiatives.

  • 12:19:19

    HANNIGANWe have one that's going on right now with our school board in Fairfax County where the school board is coming forward and talking about wanting to readjust boundaries in Fairfax County, which of course is necessary periodically, because, you know, student populations change and so forth, but they've come forward and said that the first criteria that they're going to use is the socioeconomic and racial status of the students. So now the government is reaching in.

  • 12:19:50

    SHERWOODThat's because they see that resegregating of schools. They want to address it that way and that seems intrusive on your part.

  • 12:19:56

    HANNIGANWell, I'm not sure if there's a resegregation of the schools. What they're doing is they're going in and they're going to say instead of being concerned about student achievement and what's best in bringing good education to students where they are, they're threatening neighborhood schools. And the whole idea of communities rallying around their schools and looking at moving students from one part of the county to another part of the county.

  • 12:20:22

    SHERWOODThis is happening in Howard County in Maryland also is because various government officials say that the schools are resegregating given the economic zoning and all kinds of other issues that schools are increasingly all white or close to all white or all black or close to all black.

  • 12:20:39

    HANNIGANI don't think we're experiencing that in Fairfax County. I've never even heard the term resegregation in Fairfax County. What people are talking about is achievement gaps between certain ethnic groups and that's the reason for why they're looking to try to do that.

  • 12:20:58

    SHERWOODThe caller was more -- suggested that the voters in Alexandria and other places are less conservative more moderate and more liberal even in some cases than the party as it is now -- than your party. And you were saying just off air that the party -- you're in a rebuilding time just as Mr. Wilson has said, rebuilding.

  • 12:21:19


  • 12:21:20

    SHERWOODBut who are you're target voters?

  • 12:21:23

    HANNIGANWell, I think that a lot of the ethnic groups that we talked about earlier that have moved into Fairfax County are in their own homes teaching family values and values of self-reliance and independence and being educated and entrepreneurship and hard work and those are bedrock values that are at the basis of Republican principles.

  • 12:21:52

    SHERWOODAre you suggesting that Democrats don't have those values?

  • 12:21:54

    HANNIGANI think there a gap between what people are learning at home and practicing on their home front and the way they are voting. And the onus is on us to make sure people understand what the Republicans stand for and that we're more aligned with those values than the Democrats are.

  • 12:22:15

    NNAMDIBob Gibson, Shirley who called mentioned LGBTQ issues. And we know that young people tend to be very up on these issues. And every year we get excited about young people going out to the polls, which one thinks might lean Virginia left. But how strong of a voting block are young people and do young people consistently vote for Democratic candidates?

  • 12:22:35

    SHERWOODAnd off year elections.

  • 12:22:36

    GIBSONWell, they have tended to in Virginia. But we do have as Tom was mentioning an off year election. And those elections young voters don't show up in the numbers that they do in congressional and presidential years. The people who do show up are the voters over 60, and they are not reliably one party or the other, but they tend to be more Republican than other lower age group voters. So Republicans do have an advantage in terms of the demographics of normal off off year elections.

  • 12:23:10

    GIBSONBut there is more enthusiasm this year. And I think talking about the individual freedom question that Shirley raised, she would say that there ought to be an individual freedom from gun violence. And that is becoming one of the biggest issues in Virginia right now. And I think the parties differ on that. And that will be a key factor as will the large number of women candidates running in Virginia. It's a record number for the Democrats; 48 of their 92 candidates for the House of Delegates are women. That has never been anywhere near approaching that level, 52 percent of the candidates of one party being women.

  • 12:23:50

    SHERWOODClearly turnout is an important thing. In 2015, the last time only local and General Assembly elections were on the ballot 29 percent of the people voted. In the presidential election of 2016, 72 percent of the people voted. And in 2017 the last governor's race 48 percent of the people voted. So these off off year elections -- when only the State House is up, and local county elections and city elections, it's a sharp drop-off. Rachel Bitecofer in her polling said normally it's around 29, 30 percent, but if the turnout is closer to 31, 32 or even 33 percent that could significantly indicate a wave for Democrats.

  • 12:24:34

    NNAMDIBob Gibson, race, is race expected to play a significant role in these off off year elections?

  • 12:24:39

    GIBSONWell, it depends. I think the biggest way it plays is the gerrymandering question that we've discussed a little bit. There's 25 or 26 districts in Richmond to Norfolk to Virginia Beach that were refigured, because of racial gerrymandering in a dozen of those districts are going to play a major role. Republicans would normally have a great advantage in this off off year election, but because a court has redrawn those districts it's going to give Democrats an advantage that will allow them to pick up seats that they wouldn't normally pick up.

  • 12:25:14

    GIBSONSo they have to defend 15 seats that they won two years ago in the House of Delegates. They may lose three of those seats. But I think they stand a better chance of winning perhaps five new seats, because of the redistricting challenge that has hurt Republicans in southeastern Virginia, because there was racial gerrymandering that was corrected in those districts.

  • 12:25:34

    NNAMDIBrent Tarter, the subtitle of your book is "How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia." Race has always been a major factor in redistricting from the very beginning, hasn't it?

  • 12:25:46

    TARTEROh, yes. That's absolutely true. We have a very unpleasant history of gerrymandering and racial discrimination in Virginia. Before the Civil War they gerrymander the General Assembly so that people in the area of Virginia where they owned the most slaves had permanent majorities in both houses deliberately to protect slavery. Early part of the 20th century they redistricted it in ways that made white supremacy safe. Latter part of the 20th century Democrats in the General Assembly deliberately made it very difficult for Republican voters to reelect Republican candidates. And when Republicans got a majority at the end of the 1990s they did the same thing. They made it difficult for Democratic candidates to win election to the General Assembly. And race has always figured in this.

  • 12:26:33

    TARTERIt's a sad commentary on the human condition that we still have racial problems after all these decades. But we do and they figure everywhere because the uneven distribution of black and white Virginians means that in some places you have black majorities that tends to be Democratic these days. Other places you have white majorities that tends to be Republican. And in other places you have neighborhoods that are different from each other right across the road. And if you move some populations from one district to another you considerably upset the balance. And that is exactly what has happened between Richmond and --

  • 12:27:10

    NNAMDIRunning out of time very quickly, but the General Assembly began the process of creating a bipartisan redistricting commission, which could potentially prevent partisan gerrymandering in the future. Do you think this bipartisan election commission will work, Brent Tarter? I mean, is there really a way to make redistricting apolitical so to speak?

  • 12:27:29

    TARTERThere's no way to make it apolitical. But if you make it bipartisan then it's less likely to be what some people call hyperpartisan, the gerrymandering that we've had in Virginia in the last 50 years. Maybe you could reduce that and let people elect the representatives that they want.

  • 12:27:45

    SHERWOODThe Supreme Court, though, just ruled this summer you can make a partisan redistricting that there's no constitutional bar to that.

  • 12:27:53

    TARTERThat's true. But states have a right to amend their own constitutions to set up alternatives ways of doing it. Several states in the west already have to reduce the temptation of politicians to cheat the voters on their own behalf.

  • 12:28:06

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. What did you want to say Bob Gibson? You've got 10 seconds to say it.

  • 12:28:10

    GIBSONThere's a bill in the General Assembly that if it passed again in the identical form to the way it was passed this year would give the voters next year a chance to vote on a bipartisan commission.

  • 12:28:19

    SHERWOODThe Democrats may not want to do that if they're in charge.

  • 12:28:22

    NNAMDIWell, we'll have to see what happens. Bob Gibson, Tim Hannigan, Brent Tarter, Tom Sherwood, thank you all for joining us. Tom Sherwood, I'll see you on Friday. Got to take a short break, when we come back a look at D.C.'s rent control law and how it's affecting affordable housing, I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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