Monday, March 05, 2012

Redistricting leads to shakeups in Central Virginia Congressional Races

The recent dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the GOP-led redistricting of Virginia's congressional seats has Democrats in Central Virginia scrambling to adjust their campaigns to the new boundaries.

In the 7th District, candidates who had been courting Democratic Committees in Page, Rappahannock, and Madison Counties are shifting their attention eastwards to parts of Spotsylvania and New Kent Counties as the first three counties named were dropped from the 7th CD and all or a portion of the other two were added. In terms of party affiliation and performance there seems to be little difference between the old and new 7th, but there are a few voters in the new 7th that don't know Eric Cantor except through his recent high profile obstructionism, and that could work to the benefit of the Democratic challenger.

The situation in the neighboring 5th Congressional District may soon become complicated because of some opportunistic forum shopping by Northern Virginia Democrat John Douglass. A retired brigadier general turned lobbyist, Douglass had been conducting a vigorous campaign in the 10th Congressional District to challenge Republican incumbent Frank Wolf. Then one of Douglass' homes was redistricted into the 5th Congressional District and Douglass now seems to be mulling a switch to the 5th. Douglass might be afraid of taking on a veteran incumbent like Frank Wolf, seeing the 5th's current incumbent, freshman Robert Hurt, as an easier target.

There's just one small problem: the 5th already has a presumptive Democratic candidate--Peyton Williams. Williams has several advantages in the contest for the Democratic nod in the 5th: a more central location in the district, more 5th district "cred," a head start working on the ground, and Douglass' appearance as a carpetbagger--albeit an unintentional one--and a beltway insider. A Washington, DC defense lobbyist might be a tough sell for folks in towns like Danville and South Boston at the southern edge of the new 5th. Williams is from Charlottesville, a key city in the 5th. Williams has had years to build relationships with Democrats across the 5th while Douglass is scrambling to reach out to people he has never met.

Douglass would be walking away from volunteers in the 10th who have invested their time in the hopes Douglass would topple Frank Wolf. Then there's the money: Douglass has been fundraising heavily in the understanding that he would be running against Frank Wolf. If he abruptly changes to the 5th, wouldn't Douglass be under some kind of a moral obligation to return donor money that was meant to defeat Frank Wolf? Douglass' departure from the 10th with that money could leave hard feelings and the eventual Democratic challenger in the 10th underfunded.

Douglass would be an outsider in the 5th and would have a hard time unseating Hurt, while his departure from the 10th decreases Democratic hopes in that district as well. It would also be better for Kaine and Obama if Douglass were to stay in the 10th to give Wolf a strong challenge. If there isn't a credible candidate in the 10th, it could decrease voter turnout.

It isn't entirely clear to me why Douglass would give up the nomination for the 10th, which he is all but assured of, in order to enter the contest in the 5th, where he would be forced to run a primary or caucus against the local favorite Peyton Williams. But the writing seems to be on the wall. Douglass' website is down, and looks like it is undergoing a rebuild to transform it from a 10th CD site to a 5th CD site. An announcement from Douglass could be imminent.

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