Newspaper article Roll Call

Ahead of Redraw, Virginia Republicans Jockey for Safe Seats

Newspaper article Roll Call

Ahead of Redraw, Virginia Republicans Jockey for Safe Seats

Article excerpt

Virginia Democrats say their congressional map can't get any worse.

In a state President Barack Obama carried twice, their party holds just three seats in the 11-member delegation. With a new round of redistricting coming up next month, the question now is which districts get rougher for Republicans.

A federal district court has given Virginia until Sept. 1 to redraw the lines of Democratic Rep. Robert C. Scott's 3rd District, which it has twice ruled is unconstitutionally packed with blacks. The district runs along the James River between Richmond and Hampton Roads and is currently 57 percent black, according to 2013 census data.

Democrats expect to pick up at least one seat from a wider distribution of black voters, which means one of the eight Republicans may be in for a tougher re-election.

The General Assembly is tasked with hashing out a new map. Last week, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe called for an Aug. 17 special session to begin the process. But in any redistricting -- often called an "incumbent protection program" by both sides of the aisle - - it's the congressional delegation that has the most influence.

"There's a lot of speculation about who goes, and lots of jockeying," former Virginia GOP Rep. Tom Davis told CQ Roll Call. "Some will say throw Brat under," he said, referring to freshman Rep. Dave Brat, who unseated then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in last year's GOP primary for the 7th District.

"Looking at the internal dynamics of the General Assembly, Brat doesn't have the same level of commitment" as other members of the delegation, Davis said, especially given Cantor's enduring connections in the state.

As one of the most junior members of the GOP delegation, Brat could be a palatable sacrifice for GOP leadership. But Virginia Republicans in Congress, led by 6th District Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, aren't ready to ax one of their own.

That's because they're waiting on an appeal of the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled General Assembly has asked the three-judge panel to push the deadline past this year's November legislative elections to, in part, wait for that appeal.

When asked for comment outside the House chamber on July 16, Goodlatte said he doesn't "take questions from the press on the floor." His office has not returned a request for comment.

The conventional wisdom on both sides of the aisle has been that Scott Rigell's 2nd District and J. Randy Forbes' 4th District would be the easiest targets for taking on more blacks.

Rigell's district, which is currently 21 percent black, went for Obama by 2 points in 2008 and 2012. Last cycle, the three-term congressman won re-election by nearly 18 points.

Having served eight terms, Forbes has more seniority. He won his district, which is currently 32 percent black, by 23 points in 2014, while Republicans have carried it by 1- and 2-point margins in the past two presidential elections. …

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