Terry McAuliffe aims to turn House seats by redrawing districts

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is aiming to add congressional seats with a plan to overhaul districts across the commonwealth. 

The flamboyant Democrat presented his proposal to a panel of federal judges working to redraw the lines of Virginia's 3rd Congressional District.

Under McAuliffe's proposal, Rep. Bobby Scott's 3rd District, which currently straddles the James River, would shift to Hampton Roads, giving it an electorate that is slightly more than 41 percent African-American. That's down from the current 56 percent.

The 3rd District was created in 1992 as a majority-minority seat, and Democrat Scott has held it ever since. 

At the same time, an adjacent district centered around Richmond would pick up a larger percentage of African-American voters - enough, given voting patterns, to deliver at least one more dependable seat to the Democrats, McAuliffe hopes.

The nearby 4th, 5th and 7th congressional districts are all currently held by Republicans. The lines off all these districts would shift under McAuliffe's plan. 

University of Richmond political science professor Dan Palazzolo told AMI Newswire the panel's experts will likely use a June opinion from the Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals "as a guideline" to focus on the 3rd and the districts surrounding it.

That ruling said the current districting violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by clustering black votes in the 3rd District. 

Palazzolo noted that McAuliffe's push for a second majority-minority district is not new. "[It] came up in the first iteration of redistricting after the 2010 census," he said.

Palazzolo added, "It is conceivable to draft a plan with two such districts, but it will be harder for an African-American candidate to win as a first-time challenger in a newly drawn district with 40 percent African-American voting age population."

Even if the Court does not use McAuliffe's more ambitious redistricting plan, a redrawn 3rd will still have an effect on surrounding districts like the 2nd, represented by Republican Scott Rigell, and the 4th, represented by Republican Randy Forbes.

Palazzolo said neither Rigell nor Forbes has much to worry about.

"Both incumbent Republicans ran well ahead of President Obama," he told AMI Newswire. Obama won the 2nd by 4,700 votes and Rigell was re-elected by more than 23,000 votes. Meanwhile, Obama lost the 4th by 5,000, while Forbes won it by 49,000. 

To beat either incumbent, Palazzolo said, Democrats will need more than new district lines. "Democrats will need to find high-quality challengers and Democrats will need to turn out at high levels," he said, "as they did in the 2012 presidential election."

Republicans currently have an 8-3 majority in Virginia's U.S. House delegation.