THE POLITICAL barometer in the Fredericksburg area is far from constant. Eight years ago, Stafford County went for Republican Mitt Romney over incumbent President Barack Obama by 8.7 percentage points. In 2020, the county chose Democrat Joe Biden over incumbent President Donald Trump by 3.3 points, a blue swing of 12 points. Biden is the first Democrat to win Stafford since Jimmy Carter in 1976, in the wake of Watergate.
Romney prevailed by 11.6 points eight years ago in Spotslyvania, while Trump carried the county in 2020 by only 6.8 points.
The same dynamic seems to be true in the area’s congressional races. In the 1st District, the GOP’s Rob Wittman had a 15 percentage-point advantage in the 2012 election, while fellow Republican Eric Cantor won by more than 17 points in the 7th. While Wittman won again easily in 2020, the 7th went to a Democrat for the second election in a row, with incumbent Abigail Spanberger defeating Nick Freitas by 1.8 points.
Eight years ago, there were eight Republican and three Democratic representatives from Virginia. This year, there are seven Democrats and four Republicans.
The region’s political bent has not been a straight line. In 1964, Stafford and Spotsylvania both went blue, opting for Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater. By 1972, Richard Nixon’s first election, it was bright red. After going blue for Carter in 1976, the counties went red (in shades varying from pink to fire-engine) until Stafford flipped back to blue for this election.
There is a trend here, though. Call it Northern Virginia creep. In 1960 (John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon), Fairfax County went red, or at least pink, for Nixon. It went for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. It didn’t really go full-bore blue until 2004, when Democrat John Kerry won the county.
Then, Prince William followed suit in 2008. And now, Stafford. Is Spotsylvania next?
Much of the Democrats’ success statewide is about demographics. Fairfax, which went about 2.5–1 for Biden, has gained some 66,000 residents since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But Dickenson County in Virginia’s southwest, which went almost 80 percent for Trump, has lost nearly 10 percent of its population during that same period.
So while Northern Virginia grows and expands, many Southwest Virginia and Southside localities’ populations are either shrinking or treading water.
When you see a state map with localities colored red or blue to reflect Republican or Democratic majorities, the initial reaction is that this is a red state with most of the cities (including Fredericksburg) and surrounding suburban counties breaking up the GOP stronghold. If elections were decided by acreage instead of people, the Democrats would be in trouble.
It isn’t, and the blue spots on the map are getting more populous. The red ones aren’t, and the blue is seeping from the suburbs to the exurbs. Northern Virginia’s creep southward could portend some more blue days ahead for the state’s GOP.
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