The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Proposed Virginia redistricting maps leave Spanberger miles away from her congressional seat

One of Virginia’s two battleground congressional districts would become a safe Democratic seat in the midterms under a redistricting proposal released by the state Supreme Court late Wednesday afternoon — but it has been moved completely into another region of the state.

The map — drawn by two special masters, one each nominated by Democrats and Republicans — proposes replacing the swing seat currently held by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D), who represents the western Richmond suburbs, with a much safer Democratic seat that would include all of Prince William and Stafford counties.

Congressional candidates don’t have to live in the district they represent, but Spanberger would be left nearly 50 miles away from the proposed 7th District boundary unless she chose to move.

The state’s one true battleground would still be the Virginia Beach-anchored seat held by Rep. Elaine Luria (D). As drawn it would favor Democrats slightly less than her current district, giving up its slice of Norfolk city while creeping into more heavily red parts of Southside.

Both Luria and Spanberger were already seen as vulnerable in the 2022 midterms, with Joe Biden prevailing narrowly in both the 2nd and 7th districts in the 2020 presidential election before Gov-elect. Glenn Youngkin (R) won both last month.

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And after Youngkin made gains in Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton’s district as well, the National Republican Campaign Committee announced it would be targeting Wexton along with Spanberger and Luria. All three lawmakers had defeated Republican incumbents during the 2018 blue wave, and national Republicans have been eager to snatch back those gains ever since.

That Loudoun County-anchored seat would extend south to reach Charlottesville’s city limits under the proposal but still leans in Democrats’ favor. Biden won the 10th District by 19 points in 2020, and would have won it by nine points.

The special masters’ proposal is overall less competitive than the current map. Of the 11 incumbents in Virginia’s U.S. House delegation, all eight men — including four Democrats and four Republicans — would remain as the sole incumbent living within the bounds of the state’s safest districts.

Democrats had Virginia’s 5th Congressional District on their wish list in the 2020 election, an aspiration that didn’t come to fruition. Now, the district held by Rep. Bob Good (R) would get only a tad redder under the proposed map.

The district would retain its historic anchor in Southside Virginia, while still stretching up to Charlottesville, which the special masters said was necessary to capture more population. It also would encroach on the western Richmond suburbs in Chesterfield County — Spanberger’s current turf — while losing the part that had stretched to Warrenton.

Already, one of the Republican contenders in the 7th District, state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), announced that he would be pulling out of the 7th District race to instead run in the 10th District. He noted that he has represented parts of the proposed 10th as a state senator, including Spotsylvania and Culpeper counties, among others.

The maps were drawn by Sean Trende and Bernard Grofman, the special masters selected by Republicans and Democrats respectively to aid the state Supreme Court in drawing the state’s new congressional and legislative maps.

After a voter-approved bipartisan redistricting commission failed to reach an agreement on new congressional and General Assembly districts, the task of redrawing the maps fell to the high court. But that process, too, was mired in partisanship, with each party accusing the other of nominating partisan figures with conflicts of interest for the special master role.

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The high court disqualified or cast doubt on the Republicans’ original three nominees while also ordering Democrats to present at least one alternative. The justices ultimately selected Grofman, a political science professor at the University of California at Irvine, and Trende, a senior elections analyst at RealClearPolitics.

The maps ultimately must be approved by the court, which will hold two online public hearings to receive special comment on Dec. 15 and 17, in addition to soliciting written feedback from Virginia voters before Dec. 20.

In a memo as part of the proposal, the special masters said they had prioritized the compactness but acknowledged that their proposal had fewer minority-majority districts than current maps.

As of Wednesday evening, spokespeople for both parties either declined to comment or said they were still looking into the details of the pair’s proposed maps for the General Assembly.

The memo used results from the 2017 attorney general’s race — a six-point Democratic victory — to illustrate the map’s potential effects in the General Assembly. If those vote totals held, Democrats would secure a 23-to-17 majority in the state Senate and a 53-to-47 edge in the House of Delegates.

The House split would almost certainly give more favor to the GOP if it relied on the results of last month’s elections. The three delegate seats under the proposal with the slimmest Democratic advantages — anchored in Blacksburg, Fredericksburg and a rural swath of Southside — were all in areas that Republicans flipped in November.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax), who had served on the bipartisan redistricting commission, said the mapmakers appeared to strive to create many competitive districts, rather than balancing sets of districts that favor one major party or the other.

“It looks like they did a good job,” he said. Based on a quick review, they “did do their best to be fair.”

The proposals did not take into account the home addresses of incumbent lawmakers, according to the memo, which created several instances of overlap. Simon noted he and Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax) would be drawn into the same district, though he said such a case could be fixed easily if the court was inclined. One lives virtually on top of the eastern boundary and the other quite close to the western edge.

Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), who had opposed handing off the process to a bipartisan commission, said the special masters did not appear to group some neighborhoods and communities in a logical way — pointing to the lack of public comment as the cause of such an issue. His district, at the western edge of Fairfax County, was pushed east across Interstate 395 toward Springfield, rather than further south along the Potomac River.

“It’s not that hard to get two reasonable people in a room and draw a map,” he said. “But if you’re going to do it right and actually look out for true communities of interest, it takes a little bit more time.”

Gregory S. Schneider, Harry Stevens and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.