Virginia redistricting creates moving target

Gerrymandered Democratic delegate relocating in bid to remain in office

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Virginia House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong, whose Southside district was moved north to include parts of Prince William and Loudoun counties during redistricting this year, is among the most notable of the casualties of a process that has left some incumbents playing musical chairs in bids for re-election.

Rather than challenge incumbent Delegate Donald W. Merricks, Pittsylvania Republican, Mr. Armstrong decided to move a short distance away into the redrawn 9th District, currently occupied by two-term incumbent Delegate Charles D. Poindexter, Franklin Republican.

“This race never was about electing Charles Poindexter. It’s about defeating Ward Armstrong,” said Mr. Armstrong, Henry Democrat. “I fully expected to be redistricted out of my seat. You don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner to figure that one out.”

And if moving his old district up to Northern Virginia wasn’t enough, money is already pouring in to support his opponent.

Mr. Poindexter’s Southside Victory Fund recently received seven $10,000 donations, including one from Mr. Merricks‘ campaign, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Mr. Merricks is currently running unopposed in the new 16th District.

The fund has also received $50,000 from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Opportunity Virginia PAC, $25,000 from House Speaker William J. Howell’s re-election campaign and $15,000 from House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox’s Majority Leader PAC. It had $104,347 on hand as of June 30.

Still, Mr. Armstrong is holding his own. He raised the most money in the second quarter of any House candidate running — nearly $143,000 — and finished the period with $238,834 on hand. And he was resoundingly nominated at a Franklin County Democratic Committee meeting last month.

Ward is kind of known as a fighter, and I don’t think he wanted to give up his seat in the General Assembly,” said John Reynolds, chairman of the Patrick County Democratic Committee. “A lot of the people in the new 9th are his old constituents.”

In 2001, Mr. Armstrong was drawn into a district with two other Democrats.

“My political obituary’s been written twice and never published,” he said.

Mr. Poindexter characterized the outspoken Mr. Armstrong as “out of step” with the politics of the new 9th District, though much of it is actually located in the old 10th.

It contains western Henry County and Patrick County. The old 10th District included parts of Martinsville, Henry and Carroll counties and all of Patrick County. Mr. Armstrong is moving from Collinsville to Bassett to run.

Christopher Newport University professor Quentin Kidd said voters are typically more sympathetic to politicians moving because they were drawn out of their districts or into one with a member of the same party.

“It’s easier for an incumbent to say, ‘I’ve been drawn out of my seat, and I want to continue serving you well,’ ” Mr. Kidd said. “I think voters understand that much easier than, ‘I moved into this district because I see either a weak opponent or a weak incumbent, and I’m going to take advantage of that opportunity.’ “

A number of Hampton Roads-area legislators are moving to run for office or considering it, Mr. Kidd said.

In addition, Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., Franklin Republican, will challenge incumbent Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, Henry Democrat, in the new 20th District after Democrats drew Sens. Ralph Smith, Roanoke Republican, and Stephen D. Newman, Bedford Republican, into the same district.

Mr. Smith is going to run in Mr. Stanley’s district.

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