With the results in, now is a good time to re-examine the Democrats redistricting map from earlier this year and check back on how it worked and where it leaves the party for the next 10 years.
The premise of the first map Democrats released was to put 23 seats in play (the 22 currently held by Democrats and an open seat in the Richmond suburbs) and give 17 very safe seats to Republicans. This map was designed to please the current Democratic Senate incumbents- and was not designed as a 10 year plan to hold the Senate in the 2011, 2015 and 2019 elections it would be used in. Even as weak as the initial plan was for long term Democratic prospects, Governor Bob McDonnell vetoed the plan and demanded changes. The Governor was more focused on short term politics- while the map left a lot of vulnerabilities over the decade it might have worked for 2011 only- which was the only thing the Governor serving through 2013 really cared about. In response, to continue pleasing their 22 incumbents, Democrats agreed to the map moving their open Democratic-leaning Richmond seat to a GOP-leaning area running from Lynchburg to Louisa in central Virginia. Looking back on 2011, that was the moment the Senate of Virginia went to the Republicans.
One of the main problems with the Democratic map, was it made too many seats similar in "DPI" (Democratic Performance Index) in Northern Virginia. Downstate the districts were actually drawn pretty well for the Democratic incumbents. But the error in the Northern Virginia draw turned into a huge money black hole for Democrats. For example:
Hundreds of thousands needed to be spent to prop up Barbara Favola in a formerly safe seat VA-31 that had added in some GOP areas in Fairfax and Loudoun. She won, but that seat which had been a "donor" seat for Democrats in 2007 (more spent from it than spent on it) turned into a black hole this time.
The same thing happened in VA-36 where Toddy Puller's new district needed hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending to defend her from former Delegate Jeff Frederick. Again, VA-36 which had been a "donor" seat in 2007 turned into a money hole for Democrats.
On the other hand, the NoVA seats that were improved for the incumbents were not improved enough to deter strong GOP challenges that led to very expensive campaigns:
Chuck Colgan ran in a district redrawn to go from his base in Manassas down to strongly Democratic Dale City in Prince William. Compared to the district he won twice in the last decade, this should have been an easy win. Instead, Colgan was forced into a tight race with formerly unknown challenger Tom Gordy. Once again, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to prop up Colgan- while the Chairman of Senate Finance called up other Senators for money. Pathetic.
George Lincoln Barker (I'm still giggling every time I type that) drew his own seat and added precincts in strongly Democratic Alexandria. But his weak constituent service led to strongly reduced numbers in his existing precincts in Fairfax and Prince William, and he was forced into a huge battle with Miller Baker. Barker was the one incumbent who leadership on both sides of the Senate predicted would lose one week out, but thanks to strong GOTV from the Alexandria Democrats he survived this cycle. In the process he spent nearly a million dollars of money that could have gone elsewhere.
Dave Marsden had his district improved with some strongly GOP precincts in Sully taken out, and Democratic areas in Annandale added to his district. Again, the improvements to the district were not enough to deter a strong GOP fight, and Marsden spent over half a million dollars to defend this seat.
Overall, Democrats spent over $3,000,000 to defend seats in Northern Virginia by enlarging the map here. And that doesn't even count the potential future battlegrounds in the seats held by Mark Herring and Chap Petersen that didn't require big investments this year because of the strong incumbents.
The reality was straightforward- in four downstate districts (Houck, Reynolds, Puckett and Miller) the improvements that could be made for the incumbents were only helpful- never enough to guarantee the seats. They would always need to be strongly funded in order to save a Democratic majority. While all received huge help from Senate Democrats, the wasted money from the failed NoVA strategy cost all of them an opportunity to be up on the air earlier and define their opponents. Puckett and Miller found a way to win anyway, while Houck and Reynolds were not as lucky.
Now going forward Senate Democrats face the worst possible scenario.
The Houck and Reynolds seats were places that Democrats were only close in because of extremely strong, long serving incumbents. By 2015, these two losses won't even be on the map for Democratic pick up opportunities. Meanwhile, the other 18 GOP seats were all made to be safe for the GOP incumbents.
Uh Oh, that's 20 Republicans already.
Meanwhile, here's what the Democrats face over the next 10 years:
Chuck Colgan is 85 and his seat will likely flip to the GOP when he leaves it open sometime this decade.
Chap Petersen may run statewide, and his central Fairfax seat was redrawn to include new GOP areas in western Fairfax. In a special election, this will be a possible Democratic hold, but a tough one, especially if the GOP gets a top-tier candidate like Fairfax City Mayor Rob Lederer.
Mark Herring is the strongest Loudoun Democrat, but scored just 54% against the extremely weak Patricia Phillips. This is going to be a very tough hold for Democrats in 2015 unless something big changes in Loudoun- and will be even more uphill if Herring moves up to higher office and a special election is called here.
Republicans failed to recruit an "A" list challenger to John Miller, yet he was still forced into a very tough race on the Peninsula this year. He will continue to face tough challenges in 2015 and 2019.
Surviving the wave this year was Phil Puckett. But southwest Virginia is turning more red every year with no signs of a turnaround soon. How much longer can he hang on here? If he leaves the seat open in 2015 or 2019 is there any hopes of a Democratic hold?
Toddy Puller got by Jeff Frederick this year, but what happens when she leaves the seat open in 2015 or 2019? Once again, Jeff will be back, and the Democrats will be in a huge battle to hold this seat.
George Barker and Dave Marsden will both continue to face tough re-elections in their seats, even with the gerrymandered improvements to them. In Marsden's case, a challenger from the Annandale/Burke area would be very concerning to him. For Barker, if he continues to lose numbers with his constituent service in his existing precincts, he will continue to have problems holding this one.
Barbara Favola lost Fairfax and Loudoun, even with a strong ticketmate in those areas in Pamela Danner. Throw in a strong Arlington challenger like David Foster and this seat will be tightly contested once again.
Finally, don't forget about Ralph Northam, who has been an excellent fit for his district and won easily on Tuesday. If he were to leave that seat open in 2015 or 2019, it would be a huge problem for Democrats.
In short, the Republicans have 20 pretty safe seats, while the Democrats have 10, with potential problems in the other 10 as they open up or the GOP finds stronger challengers.
Get ready for a long ten years thanks to this redistricting map.