Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics takes a look at the latest population estimates from the Census Bureau, does some number-crunching and looks at which states might be gaining or losing congressional seats after the 2020 census.
There’s a good chance, he says, Virginia might pick up a 12th seat.
(You can find his analysis here.)
A 12th congressional seat would surely be on the other side of the state — that is, after all, where the population growth is. But it will still have implications here in Western Virginia, because that likely would mean the 5th, 6th and 9th Districts (especially the 9th) would haven’t have to expand as much geographically to stay balanced population-wise.
As we’ve written about many times before, keeping the 9th in balance is tricky — you can’t expand it into West Virginia, so there are limits on how it can grow. It either has to eat into the 6th or the 5th. The problem is what to do about the Roanoke Valley. Taking more of the Roanoke Valley into the 9th is an easy way to plump up the 9th’s population (Salem and western Roanoke County are already in the 9th), but the politics aren’t helpful for Republicans (assuming they still control the state legislature, and redistricting, come 2021.)
As long as Bob Goodlatte, who lives in Southwest Roanoke County, represents the 6th, Republicans wouldn’t want to take that part of Roanoke County into the 9th. And if the 9th absorbs the city of Roanoke, well, those are an awful lot of Democrats for Republicans to deal with. They get easily outvoted in the rest of the Republican-dominated 6th now — and maybe would get outvoted in a 9th District that’s been trending Republican — but why would the GOP want to take that chance?
Meanwhile, pushing the 9th further into Southside only eats away at part of Rep. Robert Hurt’s base in the 5th.
But if Virginia gains a 12th seat, maybe the mapmakers wouldn’t have to do anything too drastic. And, of course, an extra congressional seat would mean an additional electoral vote for a state that’s been a battleground the past two elections.
In any case, something to think about, eh?