Back in 2009, then political novice Robin Abbott unseated the 21-year Republican incumbent Delegate Phil Hamilton of the 93rd district. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the two most important factors determining this outcome were the Old Dominion University scandal and the general Democratic leanings of the 93rd.
I’m not going to rehash the ODU matter here, but rather reexamine the claim that the old 93rd is generally hostile to Republican candidates. First, we have the 2009 House of Delegates election itself, where Democrat Robin Abbott captured 53.94% of the vote as compared to Hamilton’s 45.6%. Now obviously having served for 21 years, Hamilton had a clear name ID advantage to Abbott, but without further thought one may merely conclude that the result was completely due to hostility as a result of ODU. But we should always look at the numbers.
In the 2009 election, the 93rd comprised the northwestern portions of Newport News as well as two eastern precincts of James City County. While both James City County precincts were above Hamilton’s overall percentage (48.34% for Roberts A and 63.17% for Roberts B), he only won two precincts in Newport News (Deer Park 50.81% and Watkins 56.98).
How do these numbers compare to another contest at the same time, say the 2009 Governor’s race? In Roberts A & B, McDonnell captured 57.42% and 72.85% of the vote respectively. In 93rd portion of Newport News, he exceeded his statewide average of 58.61% in only one precinct, Watkins.
Looking back to 2008, how did McCain/Palin fare in the 93rd? I should first mention that they won 46.33% of the vote in Virginia. Only in Roberts B (68.23%) and Watkins (55.45%) did they get a higher margin than the statewide average. Some precincts in Newport News, such as Epes (19.15%), Greenwood (23.42%), McIntosh (23.79%), Lee Hall (28.47) and Reservoir (31.76%), they didn’t even manage to get a third of the vote! Given these numbers over the past several years, I think you can argue that the 93rd was not a friendly place for Republican candidates.
Well, how have things changed with redistricting? This new 93rd has lost many precincts in Newport News while picking up about 12,500 James City County residents, about 14,000 Williamsburg residents, and about 5,300 York County residents. Although the citizens of Williamsburg are more liberal than average Virginian, so too are James City County and York County residents considerably more conservative.
Let’s discover what was lost and gained in Newport News. The precincts of Epes, Palmer, Deer Park, and Watkins were completely eliminated from the 93rd while Reservoir was split between the 93rd and 94th. While the removal of Epes should be welcome news to Republican challengers, Palmer, Deer Park, and Watkins were Hamilton’s top three showings in the city. Ouch! In exchange, the 93rd picked up the Bland precinct. However, that precinct performed well below average for Republican Delegate Glenn Oder in 2009 (48.12% to his typical 67.62%). Losing Epes got rid of 7,800 people who typically don’t support Republicans, but shaving off 8,000 in Deer Park, 6,200 in Palmer, and 5,500 in Watkins who are far more favorable to the GOP will certainly sting. Plus the new 1,400 people in Bland won’t likely be doing Republicans any favors. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that it will be nearly impossible for a Republican to win a majority of these Newport News sections of the 93rd. This exchange should significantly bolster Abbott’s numbers here in 2011.
What about Williamsburg? Having lived in Williamsburg for four years while attending the College of William & Mary, I can personally tell you that the city is not particularly favorable to conservatives. For example, in 2009 Stan Clark, the Republican delegate candidate, fared 4.5% poorer on average in Williamsburg than the rest of the district while Bob McDonnell posted numbers that were 13.4% below normal. In 2008, McCain ended up almost 12% worse than his state average. Gee, things don’t seem to look too good for Republican contenders do they?
Well, let’s move on to James City County and York County. Unlike the cities, these areas contain a much higher percentage of Republican voters. With the exception of the precincts of Roberts C and Jamestown B (although 2009 delegate candidate Clark did better there too), delegates, governors, and presidential candidates drew considerably more support from these new precincts of the 93rd than they enjoyed on average. For the biggest example, in the Harwoods Mill precinct, now split between the 93rd and 91st, McDonnell got a 17.85% boost and McCain got a 22.19% increase from the norm.
So what’s the bottom line? Well, in this new 93rd Republicans will suffer greatly for the additions and subtractions in Newport News, not to mention the addition of Williamsburg. The influx of voters from James City County and especially York County will help a lot, but will they be enough to offset the Democratic swing of the cities? Possibly. For comparison purposes, Bob McDonnell won about 52% of the vote in the old 93rd and would have won about 54% in this new one. Although both numbers are below his state average, the fact remains that he emerged victorious in either scenario.
This year, Republican businessman Mike Watson is challenging Democratic freshman Delegate Robin Abbott. This race will hinge on a number of factors besides just the numbers listed above. Has Abbott done a good job reaching out to her constituents? Are they pleased, upset, or apathetic with her performance in the House? Has she bolstered her name ID? What sort of connections can Watson draw upon in the 93rd? And which side will have the greater number of volunteers and a motivated base?
Given my connection with Williamsburg and my employment in the 93rd during the last cycle, you can bet that I’ll be keeping my eye on this race. Now in fairness whether Robin Abbott is retained or replaced in the House of Delegates, either outcome will have little impact in the balance of power in that chamber. Nevertheless, I expect liberal and conservative activists from Williamsburg, James City, Newport News, and York will have their hands full with this one.
I’d rate the 93rd a toss up right now. The numbers slightly favor the Republicans but the incumbency factor boosts the Democrats. Either side has the potential to win; I just don’t think that it’ll be easy for anyone.