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Prince William County brought us great news Tuesday night - what happened?

Prince William County brought us great news Tuesday night - what happened?

There was a big win in Prince William County last night. Democrat Jacqueline Smith became one of very few Democrats to win a countywide race in Prince William County since the 1930s when she won the Special Election for Clerk of Courts. Not only that, but the Republican outspent us 7-1 with around $250,000 to our candidate's roughly $35,000.

Enhancing the importance of this race is the fact that eight House of Delegates Districts has precincts within Prince William County. Of those eight seats, six are Republican-held while two are in Democratic hands. So while in national and statewide races this county has been swinging in recent cycles, it has been strongly leaning right in legislative district and other local races.

What made this race particularly exciting is the way it was won. Thirteen Democrats are running for these eight seats (primary contests in District 2, 13 and 31). Most of those campaigns rallied around this race to get this result. Prior to the election, I did a brief case-study data piece on this dynamic of this race and the cross-ballot impacts running a Full SlateTM of candidates could have here. Now that we have had an actual election, let's take a look at some numbers and see what they tell us about what happened here.

I think there is probably a lesson for Democrats across the country to learn here.

Prince William County Snapshot

  • House of Delegates Districts in County = 8
  • Total Active Registered Voters = 227,243
  • House of Delegates Districts Contested last Cycle = 7
  • Uncontested District Last Cycle = District 51
  • No Republican Candidate Last Cycle = District 52
  • No Republican Candidate This Cycle = District 52

Before we begin to look at some data graphics, it is important to note a few things. 

First, since I am comparing general election data from 2015 to a much lower turnout special election, the data in this post largely centers on % of the vote for the Democrat. Comparing performance by this measure of rate is the only reliable way to see a picture of what happened in this race.

Second, this data is confined only to the precincts within Prince William County. The Clerk race itself covers Prince William County, Manassas park and Manassas City localities. I simply focus on Prince William County because it is the only locality that has a portion of every race I am comparing within its boundaries.

Third, as a result of the second point, you will notice that it looks like the Democrats should have won that seat in 2015 even though it is Republican-held. That is because I am only looking at the District 2 precincts within Prince William County. This analysis does not include the Stafford County precincts in District 2.

So with these things in mind let's dive in finally:

This first bar chart just compares the 2015 Clerk race to the Special Election results from last night. I start here to keep it simple. Four districts increased their rate of support for the Democrat by double digits. I find it interesting that three of those four gains of double digits came in seats with an important dynamic of note regarding House of Delegates races:

  • District 51 had no Democratic contender in 2015.
  • District 52 had no Republican contender in 2015 and no contender announced yet this cycle, the only seat without a Republican contender.
  • District 87 is Democratically-held and only has three precincts of the district in Prince William County. This tells me that the Democrat took the opportunity this special election presented to work these precincts that would not otherwise draw much attention in the general election since the base of support is elsewhere. 

That last bullet clearly illustrates the impact expanding our focus can have on cross-ballot or up-ballot races.

Given that, let us take a look at some cross-ballot data comparing rates from the 2015 general election in the House races and the Clerk race with Tuesday night's special election for Clerk.

This chart interests me for many reasons. Before we get into that though let me just summarize what we are looking at. Each bar, except the yellow one, is the % of voters that cast a ballot for the Democrat in that particular race. The yellow bar is the % of the total active voters in Prince William County that can be found in that District. I include that since we are looking at rates. It is important to know that while we see a huge spike in the rate of support in District 87, overall, that is the smallest slice of voters in the county.

So what is this chart telling us? First, District 2, 13, and 31 all have Democratic primaries and they all showed increased support from 2015 to 2017 in the Clerk race. District 51 saw a big boost this cycle too, it is great we have a candidate this time. Interestingly, District 52 has seen no change in circumstance, but we enjoyed a boost here too. The only district we lost ground in was District 50. Of the races with more than 10% of active voters in it, this one did not have a primary contest in play or other circumstance.

Here is a side by side view of the precinct by precinct partisan vote share. I just thought it was an interesting visual that might connect with folks. It does clearly show the scope of the gains made by Democrats precinct by precinct here.

Some Conclusions

Contesting every race is important. Working together pays off. Money is not everything. Local races matter. Winning feels good. Competing for votes matters. Drives interest changes dynamics. Lack of competition (see District 40 notes above) does not change dynamics.

In the end, running a Full Slate of candidates matters! Contest Every Race.

I am going to post the district by district precinct details that mirror the second chart posted in this entry. I know the candidates in the area read this stuff so I want to make sure it is available. I know the image may not be perfectly clear here if you want more information just let me know.

 2017 RACES Money doesn’t vote, people do: how Jacqueline Smith won Prince William County by Danica Roem

2017 RACES Money doesn’t vote, people do: how Jacqueline Smith won Prince William County by Danica Roem

Running in "Red America" - District 1 Virginia House of Delegates needs a Democratic candidate - Data Profile

Running in "Red America" - District 1 Virginia House of Delegates needs a Democratic candidate - Data Profile