President-elect Joe Biden swept to an easy victory in Virginia last week, carrying the state with 53.9 percent of the vote to Donald Trump’s 44.2 percent, according to data from the Virginia Department of Elections.
In the 5th Congressional District, Democrats weren’t so successful. Dr. Cameron Webb, UVA’s Director of Health Policy and Equity, fell to Bob Good, a Liberty University athletics administrator and Campbell County Supervisor. Observers around the country noted that Webb ran a sharp campaign while Good fumbled through multiple comical scandals, including a committing a potential campaign finance violation by auctioning off an AR-15 rifle at a rally. Heading into election night, FiveThirtyEight called the district a tossup.
Ultimately, however, Good earned 210,986 votes (52.4 percent) to Webb’s 190,313 (47.3 percent).
The huge, largely rural 5th District has voted for a Republican by a comfortable margin ever since it was drawn into its current form in the last round of redistricting. Four different Republican candidates have run in the 5th since 2012, carrying between 52.4 and 60.9 percent of the vote each time.
Though Webb lost to Good by 5.1 percent, there’s evidence to suggest Webb’s campaign did swing some voters into his camp. Webb outperformed Biden, earning around 7,000 more votes than the president-elect in the 5th District.
Still, that wasn’t enough to overcome the challenges presented by the gerrymandered district.
Two years ago, Democrat Leslie Cockburn lost to Republican Denver Riggleman by 6.6 percent in the 5th. In 2020, Webb managed to flip two of the district’s 23 localities, turning Nelson County and Fluvanna County from one-point losses into one-point wins. Webb also expanded on Cockburn’s 2018 performance in Albemarle, the district’s largest locality, winning 68.2 percent of the vote, compared to Cockburn’s 64.6.
Overall, Webb improved on Cockburn’s 2018 vote share in 15 of 23 localities—but he didn’t improve by more than 3.6 percent in a single locality, and he lost ground in some places.
Webb wasn’t able to make serious inroads into the district’s most populous red localities. In Pittsylvania and Fauquier counties, the district’s two largest localities outside of Charlottesville-Albemarle, Webb won 32.2 percent and 42.1 percent of the vote, respectively. For comparison, in 2018 Cockburn won 30.8 percent in Pittsylvania and 42.4 percent in Fauquier.
“It has truly been an honor to run to represent this district in Congress,” Webb wrote in a statement conceding the race on Tuesday. “This campaign has been a battle of ideas about how to best serve the people of our district and I cannot give enough thanks to everyone who made it possible.”
“Tonight is a victory for the conservative values that founded and sustain this nation, for biblical principles, the sanctity of life, religious liberty, free market capitalism and the importance of faith and family,” Good wrote after his victory.
Democrat Mark Warner also ran ahead of Biden, winning re-election to the U.S. Senate with 55.9 percent of the vote. Two Virginia Dems who flipped red seats in 2018 hung on to their districts this time around. In the 2nd, Elaine Luria beat Republican Scott Taylor for the second time in two years, widening her margin of victory to 5.4 percent, and in the 7th, Abigail Spanberger beat Delegate Nick Freitas by about 8,000 votes.
Virginia Republicans have now lost four straight presidential elections, four straight senate races, and two straight governor’s races. (Not that we’re counting.) Last time Republicans won statewide office was in 2009, when Bob McDonnell was elected governor, and he wound up being charged with a felony and narrowly avoiding prison. This year, the party ran Freitas—last spotted losing to far-right Confederate enthusiast Corey Stewart in the 2018 senate primary—in a winnable congressional race. Republicans don’t have much time on their hands if they want to right the ship before the next governor’s race next November.
Further down the ballot, Virginians overwhelmingly voted to pass an amendment to the Virginia constitution that will reform the way the state draws U.S. congressional and state legislative districts. The amendment places the responsibility for drawing district lines with a bipartisan commission comprised of citizens and legislators of both parties, rather than allowing the majority party to draw lines however they prefer. Some House of Delegates Democrats opposed the measure, claiming that it wasn’t a strong enough reform, but the proposal passed with the support of 65.8 percent of voters.
In a perfect world, new lines will be drawn in time for the 2021 House of Delegates elections. It’s possible, though, that a census delayed by coronavirus could mean new data isn’t available until the 2022 congressional races.