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How does redistricting affect Virginia's elections this year... and next?

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A listener near Charlottesville asked WMRA about the effect of redistricting on this year’s Congressional election. As it turns out, the implications will be felt this year, and next. WMRA’s Bridget Manley reports.

Virginia’s new district lines will likely not play a major role in the outcome of this November’s mid-term election results in the Valley. But as we move into 2023, redistricting will play a significant and chaotic role in Virginia House and Senate elections.

In the U.S House, the 6th district lost Bedford and Amherst Counties, but gained Frederick and Clarke Counties and the city of Winchester. The demographics in the 6th remain about the same - moving slightly more Republican, but by less than a point. Republican incumbent Representative Ben Cline is currently running against Democrat Jennifer Lewis.

Charlottesville, meanwhile, is not happy with the outcome of their new U.S. House District, according to Dr. Bob Roberts, a professor of political science at James Madison University.

Previously, the 5th district encompassed Fauquier, Madison, Rappahanock, and Green Counties. Charlottesville was hoping to be redistricted into the 10th with more the moderate voters to the north, but the commission decided to keep them in the 5th instead.

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Bob Roberts, James Madison University
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BOB ROBERTS: If they took Charlottesville out, the whole county out, and north along [Route] 29, there wouldn’t be enough people in the 5th. So they basically threw up their hands and said, ‘oh, you know, most of the people in the 5th are rural and conservative, so we are going to have to put them all in there.’

The incumbent, Republican Bob Good, is facing a challenge by Democrat Josh Throneburg. The district’s demographics moved slightly more Republican after the redistricting.

Roberts is anticipating an even bigger political battlefield in next year’s statewide elections, as incumbents in the General Assembly fight over new districts that were set up by Virginia’s redistricting commission.

ROBERTS: The implications of what this commission did is profound. Because, what it really did was create an unprecedented political battlefield for the Senate and the House next year in Virginia that neither party was permitted to shape. In other words, these are experts who shaped this battlefield, and the parties had no role in it. And now you have problems.

Several current incumbents across the state have been drawn into the same districts, meaning your representative could be facing primary challenges from other incumbents. This includes area state senators Emmett Hanger and Mark Obenshain, who will run for reelection in Virginia’s new 2nd senate district.

Obenshain, formerly of the 26th district representing Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, was elected to the Virginia Senate in 2003 and serves on several high ranking committees. Hanger, formerly of the 24th district representing Staunton, Augusta, and Rockingham, has served in the Senate since 1996.

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John Massoud
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JOHN MASSOUD: To be perfectly honest, no one knows what’s going to happen with current Senator Emmett Hanger. We know - or I should say it’s a very high degree of probability - that Mark Obenshain, who is an incumbent from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham area, is going to run for re-election in the new district.

John Massoud is the Chairman of the 6th District Congressional Republican Party in Virginia.

MASSOUD: I’ve not reached out to Mr. Hanger – to Senator Hanger - yet. I do not know what he is going to do. I would, however, opine by saying that Obenshain would be a very formidable opponent. I believe that Mr. Obenshain is, at times, a little more in touch with the base than Mr. Hanger is.

If both do decide to run, how the Republicans will handle a primary is also up in the air. Massoud says that each legislative district committee determines their preferred method of nomination - primary, firehouse primary or convention.

And in the House, another Valley district has changed significantly. The 26th district, which is currently represented by Republican Tony Wilt, has been significantly changed to the 34th district, representing Harrisonburg and eastern Rockingham County.

Roberts says because of that change, Wilt has lost a significant portion of his voting base - including Broadway and Timberville, some of the most conservative voters in the state. Those precincts also consistently recorded high voter turnout.

Roberts says this could give Democrats an opening to win the 34th - but it comes with a lot of caveats, like finding the right candidate and motivating voters, especially students at James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University.

ROBERTS: It will take a massive voter mobilization campaign by Democrats to win the seat.

Alleyn Harned is the Chair of the Harrisonburg Democratic Committee. He said that no candidate is currently ready to formally announce.

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Alleyn Harned
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ALLEYN HARNED: We are working with several interested candidates already this year, and I would be welcome to talk to any more that are interested.

Roberts says that Virginia’s elections will be watched nationally, and it’s going to get wild.

ROBERTS: You’re going to have millions of dollars spent in a few House of Delegates races. Millions. Governor Youngkin, if he is going to run for President, he has to win control of the legislature.

If you have a question or story suggestion for WMRA, tap “Talk to WMRA” on the WMRA app.

Note: Research for this article was done using the Virginia Public Access Project. To find out more about how redistricting affects where you live, visit their website.

Bridget Manley graduated with a degree in Mass Communications from Frostburg State University, and has spent most of her adult life working as a morning show producer and reporter for WCBC Radio in Cumberland, MD and WNAV in Annapolis, MD. She moved to Harrisonburg seven years ago and is also a reporter for The Harrisonburg Citizen. When she’s not reporting the news Bridget is the Manager of Operations for Rivercrest Farm and Event Center in Shenandoah, VA, and she also hosts a podcast that shares parenting stories called Birds In A Tree.