Democrats splurge on Virginia map redrawing

National money is pouring into Virginia from Democratic donors hoping to influence the redrawing of the state's political districts.

The struggle over changing congressional and state legislative boundary lines has become a campaign issue in a closely watched state race. It is also a main focus of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat. 

The recent cash inflow from a Democratic super PAC focused on redrawing district boundaries comes as Virginians prepare to vote in one of the few major statewide elections in 2015. 

The Democratic super PAC Advantage 2020 donated $100,000 to the Virginia Democratic Party in September and gave it an additional $25,000 on Oct. 7. So far in 2015, Advantage 2020 is the sixth-largest donor to the state Democratic Party. 

Republican State Senate candidate Glen Sturtevant last month signed a petition in support of amending the Virginia constitution to create a nonpartisan redistricting panel.  

Sturtevant spokesman Matt Brown noted only one of Sturtevant's opponents — Libertarian Carl Loser — has signed the document. Democrat Dan Gecker and Independent Marleen Durfee have not. The four candidates are vying to succeed retiring Republican state Sen. John Watkins in a Richmond-area district.

But the group behind the petition noted that changing the redistricting process is a goal of both major parties. 

"All the candidates have responded that they don't like the current system and are in favor of reform, so that's great news for the citizens of the 10th District," Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021, told AMI Newswire. 

Redistricting became a hot issue in Virginia, and a potential bright spot for Democrats, following recent court decisions that threaten several safe Republican districts. In June, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the boundaries of the 3rd Congressional District unconstitutional. A July lawsuit filed in a federal court in Alexandria alleges the boundaries of several House of Delegates districts are also unconstitutional. 

"Flipping the Virginia Senate is a top priority for our organization this year," Advantage 2020 director Mark Schauer said in a news release announcing the PAC's September donation.

Virginia Democrats are outnumbered 67 to 33 in the House of Delegates but are within spitting distance of a majority in the state Senate, where they hold 19 seats to the Republicans' 21.

"This donation is only the beginning of a significant longer-term investment in the state,” Schauer said. “The Virginia Senate will remain one of Advantage 2020's top targets in our multiyear effort to combat Republican gerrymandering in the next round of redistricting.”

Advantage 2020 communications director Carolyn Fiddler acknowledged the Democratic effort will depend on the outcome of the November elections. A recent survey by Christopher Newport University suggested the Democrats are going to have trouble bringing out voters next month. 

"Advantage 2020 will reassess the redistricting lay of the land after the November elections to develop strategies for any future involvement in Virginia the organization may undertake," Fiddler told AMI Newswire.

McAuliffe, a highly successful fundraiser and organizer for the national party, has his own redistricting campaign. McAuliffe and EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock are co-chairing a Democratic Governor's Association initiative called the 2020 Redistricting Fund. 

The group will focus on electing Democratic governors in targeted states. In a news release announcing the fund's creation, McAuliffe sounded a strong partisan note.

"The DGA’s ‘Unrig The Map’ effort is about ensuring more Democratic governors can be at the table in 2020 to prevent the kind of far-right gerrymandering we saw in 2010,” McAuliffe said.

Sturtevant spokesman Brown charged these groups with using the issue for partisan gain.

"Their donations are funding the campaign of our opponent for the purpose of partisan redistricting, which might work for partisans in Washington, but is not in the best interest of voters in the 10th district," Brown said.

According to figures from the Virginia Public Access Project, Democratic candidate Gecker has raised $680,000 in the 10th District campaign —  more than twice as much as Sturtevant, who has raised $325,000.