A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama recently made its first campaign donation: $500,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia to help elect Ralph Northam as the state's next governor.
The contribution from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) is part of its mission to end Republican advantages in congressional and legislative redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census.
The group, formed in January and led by former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., aims to elect more Democrats to statehouses and governor's mansions so they can expand their influence when it comes to redrawing districts.
Virginia's next governor will be in a position to sign or veto redrawn districts in 2021, shaping politics in the swing state for the next decade.
Obama has said ending gerrymandering would be one of his top political priorities after leaving office. He headlined a July fundraiser for NDRC, which raised $10.8 million across its affiliates during the first half of the year, and plans to stump for Northam.
"This first campaign investment marks the next stage of the NDRC's work for fairer maps in Virginia and around the country," Holder said. "Ralph Northam is the clear choice for fairer maps that better reflect the values of Virginia's communities. Virginians deserve a political system that works for voters, not politicians."
Northam, the lieutenant governor, faces Republican Ed Gillespie in November. A longtime party operative and former chair of the Republican National Committee, Gillespie helped strategize the takeover of state houses in 2010 that allowed the GOP to control much of legislative redistricting around the country.
In Virginia, Republicans hold 66 of 100 House of Delegates seats — all on the ballot in November — and seven of 11 U.S. House seats while Democrats have prevailed in statewide contests in recent years. The GOP-controlled state Senate, where Democrats drew the lines, is more evenly split with a 21-19 margin.
Virginia's gubernatorial contest, one of just two in the country this year, has been attracting a flood of national interest and money. Kelly Ward, NDRC's executive director, said the organization was monitoring the race and may send more cash if necessary.
"We are going to help and do our part to make sure Northam gets across the finish line," she said.
NDRC is also supporting ballot initiatives to establish independent redistricting commissions, while funding legal challenges to maps drawn by Republican lawmakers.
Meanwhile, the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization devoted to helping Republicans win control of state houses, donated $225,000 to the Virginia GOP in August.