A Curious New Retirement

Jan. 19, 2016 — Rep. Scott Rigell’s (R-VA-2) announced retirement last week is surprising not just because it was unexpected. Since the Virginia redistricting situation that directly affects the southeastern part of the state is not fully decided, the political timing of such a declaration is precarious.

Clearly, Rigell’s decision not to seek a fourth term is being done for personal reasons and not political ones. His official statements suggest he has a “sense of accomplishment” regarding his service in Congress, and that “it’s time to come home.” If politics were involved, he would postpone a retirement announcement until the district lines are finalized, particularly because his 2nd District fares quite differently under the two redistricting plans.

The new court-ordered Virginia map would make Rep. Randy Forbes’ (R-VA-4) district virtually unwinnable for a Republican, but actually reinforces, from a GOP perspective, the Rigell seat and that of neighboring Rep. Robert Hurt (R-VA-5). Interestingly, Hurt, also after three terms, announced his retirement just before Christmas.

But Virginia redistricting is far from settled despite the lower court’s action to institute their map. Republican appellants are asking the US Supreme Court to stay the lower court decision until the high court, itself, hears arguments on the new plan and renders its own decision.

Should the Supreme Court issue the stay, and there’s a good chance the Justices will address the motion before February, the current map would probably remain in effect through the 2016 election. Any changes to the Tidewater region – alterations that must occur because the lower court declared Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D-VA-3) district illegal due to the current boundaries packing African-American voters — would then likely occur for the 2018 election. If the court rejects the motion to stay, then the lower court map will take effect right now.

Ironically, though the Democrats claim victory from the lower court ruling, and that is certainly the case regarding District 4, their chances of winning the newly open 2nd and 5th Districts would be much worse than under the present set of congressional boundaries.

Ironically, the one person who may benefit from running under the new lines is the only Tidewater Republican who apparently wants to stay in Congress, Rep. Forbes. Though he is the clear target of the lower court’s plan, he could potentially survive by hopping into either the 2nd or the 5th if the new plan takes effect this year. He would be better known in the 2nd, because that district shares a media market with his current territory, but he would be a strong candidate in either seat within crowded Republican candidate fields requiring only a plurality for victory because he has regional name familiarity.

Should the map take effect in 2018 and his 4th CD becomes a Democratic seat at that time, Forbes would actually be in worse long-term shape even though he would win an extra term in this election. In ’18, with two new Republican incumbents in Districts 2 and 5, he would literally have nowhere to run.

The final solution to the Virginia redistricting melodrama is still yet to be determined. Regardless of the eventual outcome, the Tidewater congressional elections will all be quite interesting this year.

Rigell becomes the 37th member to not seek re-election in 2016, 22 of whom are Republican.

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