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Dec. 24, 2015 — Three-term Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Chatham/Charlottesville), just 46 years of age, announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election next year. The Hurt retirement story broke from Virginia Republican sources late in the day Tuesday, and certainly qualifies as a major political surprise.
He was only elected in 2010, and leaving Congress so early and at a young age is highly unusual. Hurt explained the reason for his retirement in a statement:
“When I think back on my first run for public office, I never envisioned making this a career. I ran because I believed then as I do now that every citizen should contribute in his or her own way to ensure a vibrant representative democracy. But I also believed then as I do now that it is not our elected leaders who make our country great, but it is, rather, the private citizen and the private economy that make this country great.”
Prior to winning the central Virginia US House seat, Hurt served in the Virginia state Senate and House of Delegates. The congressman began his political career with a stint on the Chatham Town Council. He has served in elective office continually since the beginning of 2000 and appeared to be in no danger of losing re-election.
Virginia’s 5th District stretches from the Virginia-North Carolina border all the way through Charlottesville, touching the Roanoke and Lynchburg suburbs to the west, and then ranges to the Northern Virginia towns of Marshall and Warrenton. The expansive VA-5 encompasses all or parts of 21 counties and the cities of Charlottesville and Danville.
Though Rep. Hurt has had little trouble winning re-election here, the district does have swing characteristics. Mitt Romney won here in 2012, despite President Obama again carrying Virginia, but by a far from insurmountable 52-46 percent margin. The inclusion of liberal university town Charlottesville largely contributes to the seat’s potential swingy nature.
In 2008, Democrat Tom Perriello (D-Charlottesville) held the district for one term, upsetting then-Rep. Virgil Goode (R) by 727 votes in riding the Obama coattails from the president’s original election. Hurt returned the district to the Republican column two years later with a 51-47 percent win, and then scored victory percentages of 55 and 61 percent in the two succeeding elections.
Two Democrats had previously announced their intentions to run for the seat. Albemarle County Board chair Jane Dittmar and former congressional aide Ericke Cage are already engaged in the Democratic primary. Now that the seat will be open, it is possible party leaders will attempt to upgrade their candidate.
Since local Republicans were caught completely off-guard by this development, and never anticipated an open congressional seat for 2016, virtually every GOP state legislator is being mentioned as a potential candidate. It will take several days and weeks to sort out who will actually run.
This district will likely be affected by the Virginia mid-decade redistricting, but the actual boundary alteration will probably not take place until the 2018 election. Since the US Supreme Court has assumed jurisdiction for the re-drawing process, it is unlikely they will make any mapping changes during the current judicial term. This means the current boundaries will remain for 2016, but likely change before the next mid-term election. Such a development will help the Republicans hold this seat in the short-term.
The eventual GOP nominee will become the early favorite, but this district and campaign bears watching, particularly if the Democrats do well at the presidential level. The Hurt district is now the 33rd open seat in the 2016 election cycle. Republicans currently hold 20 of the districts as compared to 13 for the Democrats.