Battleground Counties: Henrico County, Virginia

One of our favorite topics gets more ink today in the Richmond Times-Dispatch–Battleground Counties.  Henrico County, Virginia was mentioned in our very first post on this subject and remains as vital as ever to securing victory in one of the most important states this election cycle:

Henrico County has emerged as a bellwether in a critical battleground state that could determine the outcome of the presidential election. In large part because of the county’s influence, the Richmond area is among the regions where the battle for Virginia’s 13 electoral votes is expected to be decided. Last week, the Richmond-Petersburg area was the top media market in the nation for advertising in the presidential election by the Obama and Romney campaigns and outside groups. In recent years, the former conservative stronghold of Henrico has shifted from a dark red to pure purple, reflecting the demographic and attitudinal shifts that have put Virginia at the center of the Obama-Romney battle…University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said that while Henrico won’t necessarily decide the election, it will undoubtedly serve as a barometer for the state. “If Obama carries Henrico again, it’s an indicator he’s probably winning the state,” Sabato said. “He can lose it, but not by much.”

A volatile voting county

When Henrico reversed course in 2008 and voted for Obama after decades of picking Republican presidential candidates, so did Virginia, marking the first time a Democratic presidential candidate won the state since President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. The following year, the county swung back, backing Republican Bob McDonnell for governor. But Henrico’s political volatility goes back a bit further. In 2005, the year after the county helped keep President George W. Bush in the White House, the county voted to put Democrat Timothy M. Kaine in the Executive Mansion. In 2006, Henrico supported Republican George Allen in his ill-fated bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Two years later, the county not only helped elect Obama but also supported Democrat Mark R. Warner for the U.S. Senate.

Formerly predominantly white, now a suburban melting pot

  • Henrico is the sixth most-populous locality in the state
  • African-Americans now account for 30 percent of Henrico’s population, up from less than 25 percent in 2000
  • The Hispanic population has grown 152 percent since 2000 and now represents 5 percent of the county’s population
  • Henrico’s Asian population now tops 20,000 people and accounts for 6.5 percent of the population, compared with 3.6 percent in 2000
  • East vs West: While the western portion of the county’s population remains largely affluent, white and conservative, the eastern end, which has exploded in population, has become largely black and Democratic

Ad wars and  turnout

  • Virginia’s turnout always spikes in a presidential year. It soared to 76.4 percent in 2008 but a year later, the turnout in Virginia’s gubernatorial election plummeted to 42 percent
  • Along with the Richmond-Petersburg advertising market, the Norfolk-Portsmouth and Roanoke-Lynchburg markets are consistently in the top five in the country for presidential campaign advertising

Ground game

  • The Obama campaign has opened 17 offices around the state, while the Romney campaign, working hand in hand with the Republican Party of Virginia’s Victory 2012 effort, has nine
  • Obama’s campaign offices now dot the state, from Danville to Petersburg to Alexandria to Henrico
  • The state campaign lists 40 field organizers fanned out across Virginia, four for central Virginia and nine concentrated on the Greater Hampton Roads region, where it has four offices
  • Romney only recently clinched the nomination and is preparing to establish his own footprint in the state with the help of the state’s GOP, which has handed over its nine statewide offices and a headquarters in Northern Virginia with a hint of more to come. “The world’s going to change in the next couple of weeks,” said GOP Victory 2012 chair Pete Snyder, who is working closely with the Romney campaign. “We have no intention of matching them on the number of staff because we don’t need to,” Beeson (Romney’s political director) said, suggesting Obama is looking to overcome an “intensity gap” in the state. “They’re running the campaign like he’s running the country, just continually hiring more people and throwing more money at it like that solves the problem,” he said.

Focus areas

  • In the Richmond area, Democrats will rely on their bastions of strength in the city of Richmond and eastern Henrico
  • Republicans will try to muster big turnouts in western Henrico and GOP-leaning Hanover and Chesterfield counties
  • Chesterfield also will be a focus of both candidates. Sabato said the county will vote Republican but the margins there will matter. “If Obama gets over 40 percent in Chesterfield, he’s doing pretty well,” Sabato said, noting that Obama came within about 12,000 votes of Republican nominee John McCain in 2008 in the state’s fourth most-populous locality

The surrounding state

  • Hampton Roads area was long Republican turf until Kaine won Chesapeake and Virginia Beach in 2005 and Obama followed suit in 2008
  • Largely blue Northern Virginia — which Obama carried by more than 230,000 votes in 2008 — and the reliably red hinterlands also will play a key role. Heavily populated Northern Virginia counties such as Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax can be counted on to vote heavily for Obama, others like Prince William, Loudoun and Staffordare less decisively Democratic
  • Rural areas represent about 20 percent of the statewide vote. Areas like Southwest Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont region could be key to Romney’s efforts. Sabato expects high anti-Obama turnout in such counties as Tazewell, Shenandoah and Augusta. “You can run up those margins there to the point where Obama needs a lot of extra votes in Northern Virginia that might not be available.”
  • In 2008 Obama made trips to Martinsville, Harrisonburg, Roanoke, Lynchburg and Lebanon
  • Last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, and former Rep. Tom Perriello participated in a tour that wound through Blacksburg, Martinsville, Rustburg, Chatham, Raphine and Lovingston before ending with the opening of the Blacksburg campaign office

Polls and enthusiasm

The President maintains a slight edge in recent polls show. A Quinnipiac University poll this month showed Obama leading Romney in Virginia by 5 percentage points. A Washington Post poll from early May showed Obama leading by 7. Obama narrowly leads among men but by double digits with women. They also show Obama with a sizable advantage among minorities and voters younger than 35. While those groups may favor the president, getting them to the polls will be critical to his quest for re-election, Sabato said. “There’s a central question that will determine which way Virginia goes: Will Obama be able to re-energize minorities and young people as he did in 2008? Because they are not energized right now,” he said. “They’re just not, and I see it every day.”

One Trackback

  1. […] I would have inserted Henrico Couty, VA here (bigger Battleground, Florida trending GOP). But Pinellas is an interesting county w/a lot of […]

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