Could blue wave hit red Isle of Wight?

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Wouldn’t it be something if Isle of Wight County, perhaps the reddest of Tidewater localities, was represented entirely by Democrats in Richmond and Washington, D.C.?

It might just happen.

Congressional and General Assembly redistricting maps, analyzed in their draft stage in this space last month, were later approved unanimously by the Virginia Supreme Court, sending political shockwaves through the commonwealth, mainly for their impacts on incumbents. Nowhere is the pending upheaval greater than in Isle of Wight, which will lose at least four, maybe five, members of its current state and federal legislative delegation.

When the Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor Chamber of Commerce convenes its annual legislative breakfast come 2024, the only familiar face on the platform could be Delegate Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight. And even Brewer will have to pull an upset next year to stay in the General Assembly.

Gone from the Isle of Wight delegation will be state Sens. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, and John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, who each represents a slice of the county currently. After the 2023 election, they will be replaced by a single senator representing the new Senate District 17, a rural Western Tidewater district that includes all of Isle of Wight, Suffolk, Southampton, Greensville and Brunswick counties, as well as Franklin and Emporia. It also picks up roughly 21,000 voters in Portsmouth and part of Dinwiddie County outside Petersburg.

Of note, the new district is Democratic-leaning, with the map drawers using Hillary Clinton’s 2016 edge over Donald Trump in the district to assess its partisan lean.

Isle of Wight currently is represented by a Democrat, Bobby Scott, in the U.S. House of Representatives, but Scott won’t be on the ballot locally this fall. The county is now in the Virgina Beach-centric 2nd Congressional District, also represented by a Democrat, Rep. Elaine Luria, who says she’s seeking reelection.

The seat might represent Isle of Wight Republicans’ best chance at victory. While Luria will have the power of incumbency on her side, the district has trended steadily red since Luria won her seat in 2018. It will be one of the battleground races nationwide that determine which party controls the House.

Then there’s the state House of Delegates, where Brewer currently represents all of Isle of Wight but will move to the Suffolk-heavy and left-leaning District 84. The 84th covers a lot of geography in southeastern Isle of Wight but just 11,000 of the county’s voters, the rest being in the new District 85.

Newly elected Delegate Otto Wachsmann, a Sussex pharmacist, is the only incumbent in the 85th, which also covers Southampton, Sussex, Greensville and Brunswick counties, plus Emporia. Clinton won it by a whisker in 2016, meaning the GOP’s Wachsmann is no shoo-in. Both parties will sink a ton of money into the race, which will help determine control of the House of Delegates.

Brewer’s best electoral math might be a run for the Senate, as Senate District 17 is less blue than House District 84. Brewer’s name recognition and track record of constituent service would make her formidable in either race, but both districts will be a climb for the Republican nominee.

It’s not so farfetched under these maps for Isle of Wight, which gave 58% of its votes to Trump in both 2016 and 2020, to be represented in coming years by two Democratic state delegates, a Democratic state senator, a Democrat in the U.S. House and two Democratic U.S. senators. Who’d have ever guessed it?

 

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is steve.stewart@smithfieldtimes.com.