CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — After more than two dozen House of Delegates districts were redrawn this year because of a court order, some elections this year have become more competitive.
A judge found 11 House districts were drawn in a way that packed black voters into certain areas, which is called racial gerrymandering. The voting district map was redrawn this year, shuffling more than 425,000 voters from Richmond to Virginia Beach into 25 new districts.
The Virginia Public Access Project, VPAP, analyzed the new map. It shows six districts could flip from red to blue if you look at the voting trends from the 2012 Presidential Election.
There’s a lot at stake with this election. All 140 seats will be decided by voters, 100 in the House of Delegates and 40 in the State senate. Republicans have held a slim majority in recent years.
One of those is the 66th District, currently represented by House Speaker Kirk Cox. The Colonial Heights Republican has represented this area for nearly 30 years. He’s running against Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman, who has run for the House of Delegates before. Independent Linnard Harris is also on the ticket.
As part of a series looking at the 66th District candidates, Capitol Bureau Reporter Sara McCloskey went door knocking with the House Speaker.
With so many years of experience, Cox has door knocking “down to a science.” A room filled with volunteers help to coordinate letters that are mailed out to voters to let them know when Cox may be in the neighborhood. If someone isn’t home, Cox will leave a personally signed note on their door.
“Basically to let them know, if they have a question on a campaign issue, if they have a constituent service, we’re there for them,” he explained.
Cox also takes meticulous notes on each registered voter’s home that he visits, jotting down on a phone application things the constituent cares about, ideas they have for laws and personal details.
Opening the car door, Cox checked his back seat and then felt his pocket.
“I forgot dog treats. Those are always good to have,” he added with a smile.
Last week, Cox went knocking in a new neighborhood for his district. When speaking to these residents he brought up his experience in the classroom at Manchester High School, which was down the street.
During the 2019 General Assembly session, Speaker Cox pushed for a five percent pay raise for teachers and says he would continue freezing college tuition rates if he holds his seat come November.
“I have called to try to get teacher’s salaries to the national average,” he added. “We’re losing a lot of classroom teachers.”
Cox also highlighted efforts to support veterans over the years as a main priority. With so much experience in office, Cox says he deliver to his constituents.
Familiarity might help with this election, says Ernest McGowen, associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond, notes there’s a significant number of new voters.
“With the way the district has been redrawn, his localness, the people that don’t necessarily know him. He hasn’t brought ‘pork’ to these kinds of people in the same way he did his old district,” McGowen said.
“Pork” is a metaphor for lawmakers getting funding for specific local project for their residents.
These voters wouldn’t have been in the 66th District if the maps stayed the same. Every 10 years, voting districts are redrawn based on census data.
House Republicans, lead by Speaker Cox, fought the redistricting case in court for years. It went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court a few months ago. The justices ruled in favor of keeping the maps days before the June Primary.
The likelihood of this court case impacting voters’ perception of Speaker Cox, McGowen said was low.
“I would expect political sophistication would let you know why they’re fighting it. It’s not necessarily because they don’t like you, it’s because they have a better chance of winning because you’re probably not going to be someone that’s part of their constituency,” McGowen said. “So, I don’t think the whole idea of fighting the districts is a problem. But the reason why he was fighting the district, is the problem, because those people are more likely to be Democrats.”
Since the maps have been finalized, Cox says his office has received a lot of phone calls from residents that were confused about who was their new representative and what district they actually fall into. That’s one of the reasons, Cox says, why he wanted to fight this in court.
“My main argument was let’s finish the map over ten years and then redraw the line, let’s not change it before,” Cox said. “I’ve never seen it change eight years into the process, I feared that would confuse people and it has.”
With so many new faces, Cox’s campaign staff has coordinated a number of community events over the summer to meet voters, including movie nights and a barbecue.
“We’ve always tried to be a little bit creative,” Cox explained, “but I think this year we went, you know, we try to meet as many people as possible when we have four months.”
Whether the doors being knocked on belong to a Republican, Democrat or Independent, Cox says he’ll do everything he can to get their support and tell them what he stands for.
“Most people are willing to at least listen to what you got to say,” he added. “I want them to know that if they elect me, they’re not just going to see me at election time.”