With the July 4th holiday over, it's time to start looking forward to November when Virginia's voters will be a key part of the electoral strategy for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney nationally as well as deciding one of the closest Senate races in the U.S. between Tim Kaine and George Allen.
So what place in Virginia is the bellwether that can point us to the likely winners of these closely watched races?
106 localities (out of 134) voted for the entire McDonnell/Bolling/Cuccinelli ticket in Virginia's last statewide elections in 2009. They were the counties of Accomack, Amelia, Amherst, Appomattox, Augusta, Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Buchanan, Buckingham, Campbell, Caroline, Carroll, Charlotte, Chesterfield, Clarke, Craig, Culpeper, Cumberland, Dickenson, Dinwiddie, Essex, Fauquier, Floyd, Fluvanna, Franklin, Frederick, Giles, Gloucester, Goochland, Grayson, Greene, Halifax, Hanover, Henrico, Henry, Highland, Isle of Wight, James City, King and Queen, King George, King William, Lancaster, Lee, Loudoun, Louisa, Lunenberg, Madison, Mathews, Mecklenberg, Middlesex, Montgomery, Nelson, New Kent, Northumberland, Nottoway, Orange, Page, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Powhatan, Prince Edward, Prince George, Prince William, Pulaski, Rappahannock, Richmond, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Russell, Scott, Shenandoah, Smyth, Southampton, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Sussex, Tazewell, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland, Wise, Wythe, York, and the cities of Bedford, Bristol, Buena Vista, Chesapeake, Colonial Heights, Danville, Galax, Harrisonburg, Hopewell, Lynchburg, Manassas, Manassas Park, Norton, Poquoson, Radford, Salem, Staunton, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Waynesboro, and Winchester.
The year before that, Virginia was carried by both Barack Obama for President and Mark Warner for Senate. Only 22 of the localities that voted McDonnell/Bolling/Cuccinelli in 2009 had voted for Obama/Warner in 2008 They were the counties of Buckingham, Caroline, Essex, Henrico, King and Queen, Loudoun, Montgomery, Nelson, Prince Edward, Prince William, Sussex, Westmoreland, and the cities of Chesapeake, Danville, Harrisonburg, Hopewell, Manassas, Manassas Park, Radford, Staunton, Suffolk and Winchester.
Prior to 2008, the most recent statewide election was the Jim Webb-George Allen Senate race in 2006. Only 9 localities that voted for all the winners in 2008 and 2009 also voted for Jim Webb in 2006- keeping their bellwether status intact. Those were the counties of Caroline, Loudoun, Montgomery, Nelson, Prince William, Sussex, Westmoreland and the cities of Radford and Suffolk.
2005 was the statewide election before 2006, and is the most complicated for many of our bellwether counties. While Tim Kaine was being elected Governor, the Lt. Governor went to the GOP with Bill Bolling by 1%, and the Attorney General went GOP with Bob McDonnell by a tiny fraction of 1%. Could any county match that?
All nine of our remaining swing localities that voted for all the winners in 2009, 2008 and 2006 also voted for Tim Kaine for Governor in 2009. But seven of those nine localities- Caroline, Montgomery, Nelson, Sussex, Westmoreland, Radford and Suffolk also voted for Leslie Byrne and Creigh Deeds downballot from Tim Kaine.
Only two localities remain that didn't vote for the statewide Democratic ticket in 2005- Loudoun and Prince William counties.
Loudoun missed one race that year- voting Kaine/Byrne/McDonnell.
But Prince William got them all correct- voting Kaine/Bolling/McDonnell. Prince William also voted for George W. Bush in 2004, the only statewide race on the ballot that year.
So the longest streak of predicting winners and being a bellwether in Virginia- at ten statewide elections in a row- is Prince William County. Prince William's streak did not last the entire decade of the 00's however- they voted for Mark Earley over Mark Warner for Governor in 2001, and voted for Jay Katzen over Tim Kaine for Lt. Governor that year as well.
Looking inside Prince William County- there is one area that votes as a bellwether to the county. Prince William is split into seven magisterial districts- Brentsville, Coles, Gainesville, Neabsco, Occoquan, Potomac (used to be called Dumfries) and Woodbridge. On the left is the map of those districts before the recent county redistricting that existed during the the last decade of Prince William's bellwether status.
One district- Coles- joined the county in voting for the winner in all ten statewide elections- Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli in 2009, Barack Obama and Mark Warner in 2008, Jim Webb in 2006, Tim Kaine, Bill Bolling and Bob McDonnell in 2005 and George W. Bush in 2004. The closest Coles came to losing it's bellwether status came in the 2005 Lt. Governor's campaign when Bill Bolling won the district with 5,401 votes to Leslie Byrne's 5,400 votes.
Runners up for the bellwether locality are a few places that voted for nine of the last ten statewide winners. Loudoun County only missed the 2005 Lt. Governor's race, while Winchester City, Chesapeake City and Henrico County only missed the 2006 U.S. Senate race. The tiebreaker here for runner-up status is the 2001 statewide election- which voted for Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore. Henrico County was the only one of these four localities to vote for the winner in all three of those elections making Henrico the runner up to Prince William for bellwether county in Virginia.
In fact, Henrico also voted for George W. Bush and George Allen in 2000, Jim Gilmore, John Hager and Mark Earley in 1997 and finally Bob Dole and John Warner in 1996- giving it a streak of having voted for 19 of the last 20 statewide election winners. Henrico's weak point seems to be midterm U.S. Senate races, as it missed the 2006 Allen-Webb race, and was otherwise perfect until you go back to the 1994 Robb-North race when Henrico voted for Oliver North.
If you are a national reporter trying to figure out what part of Virginia you want to cover- now you know. First go to Prince William- then head to Henrico and you will find out which way Virginia is headed.