The 5 counties that matter in the Virginia’s governors race

November 5, 2013

Polls close in Virginia at 7 pm. (God bless the Commonwealth for their early poll closing time!)

While the votes start to stack up statewide, there are few counties that you should pay special attention to as they will tell us whether an upset is brewing for Ken Cuccinelli or whether Terry McAuliffe is cruising to victory.  Our five counties -- developed in conjunction with the Fix posse and resident Virginia political experts Amy Gardner and Ben Pershing -- are listed alphabetically below. What did we miss?


Image courtesy of NBC

* Arlington: This is the most strongly Democratic county in northern Virginia and, as such, should be a good measure of Democratic enthusiasm and turnout for McAuliffe. President Obama won the county with 71.7 percent in 2008 and 69.1 percent in 2012. In 2005, Tim Kaine (D) took 74.2 percent in Arlington county (42,319 votes).  Four years later Creigh Deeds took 65.5 percent in the county (36,949). McAuliffe wants to be far closer to the Kaine number in order to win statewide.

* Fairfax: This massive county in the northernVirginia suburbs accounted for 14 percent of all votes cast statewide in the 2009 governor's race. Bob McDonnell carried it with 51 percent in that race but  President Obama won it with 59 percent last November.  Cuccinelli won't win Fairfax but if he gets blown out (somewhere in the low 4os) it will be hard to recover statewide due to the sheer number of votes the county casts. Also worth noting: Cuccinelli grew up in Fairfax and represented it in the state Senate while McAuliffe has lived there for more than two decades. (One other fun fact: In 2009, Fairfax accounted for 12 percent of all McDonnell votes statewide and 16 percent of all Deeds votes.)

* Henrico: This county takes in much of the area around the capital city of Richmond and has served as an effective bellwether of statewide performance over the last few elections. President Obama carried it with 55 percent and 56 percent in 2012 and 2008, respectively, while McDonnell won it with 56 percent in 2009 and Kaine took 53 percent there in 2005.  Henrico is part of a string of counties running west to east from just south of Charlottesville to Newport News that have moved in favor of Democrats over the past decade.

* Prince William: Everything you need to know about the importance of this exurban county due south of Washington, D.C. can be summed up by the fact that President Obama began and ended his 2012 presidential campaign in Prince William. (Read more about the county in this amazing story by WaPo's Marc Fischer and Jenna Johnson.) Prince William has become quite a bellwether in recent years. Obama won it in 2012 with 57 percent, three years after McDonnell had carried with 58.7 percent.  A year before McDonnell's 2009 win, Obama took 57.5 percent of the vote in Prince William. If there is going to be a Cuccinelli upset, he has to win (or come damn close to winning) in Prince William.

* Tazewell: If Arlington county is a good measure of Democratic turnout/enthusiasm than this small southwestern Virginia county is a litmus test for GOP excitement. (President Obama won only 20.7 percent in Tazewell in 2012.)  In 2009, McDonnell won 73.3 percent in Tazewell (7,588 votes) on his way to a sweeping statewide victory. Four years earlier Jerry Kilgore won only 58.1 percent in Tazewell (5,970 votes) on his way to a convincing loss. A McDonnell-like number in Tazewell for Cuccinelli would show that his much-vaunted grassroots base is heavily motivated on election day.

Since 1993, statewide election turnout has decreased in Virginia while presidential election turnout has stayed fairly steady and high. What could that mean for Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli? (The Washington Post)
Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · November 5, 2013