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Size and Distribution of the VA Primary Vote

In trying to understand Creigh Deeds’ smashing win in yesterday’s VA gubernatorial primary, turnout patterns are one obvious thing to focus on. But the more you stare at the numbers, the more Deeds’ win looks like a triumph of persuasion for him rather than any failure in mobilization efforts by his rivals.

The total vote topped 320,000 or 6.4 percent of registered voters. That was well above the 250,000 that state officials expected, and over double the turnout in the 2006 Senate primary that was the most cited parallel. To be sure, one defeated candidate, Brian Moran, clearly seemed to be banking on a low turnout (at least outside NoVa), but the size of Deeds’ win probably made that irrelevant.

But how about the geographical distribution of the vote? Did that favor Deeds or disadvantage Moran or McAuliffe? Doesn’t look like it.

Given the apocalyptic storms that hit NoVa just as polls opened, one might wonder if turnout there was lower than it should have been. To check that, I looked at the percentage of the primary vote cast in NoVa’s 8th, 10th and 11th congressional districts in 2006 and yesterday. In the 2006 Senate primary, NoVa famously dominated the results, and sure enough, an amazing 42.9% of the statewide vote was cast in those three CDs. Yesterday, the percentage was down to 37.3%. It’s hard, however, to suggest that this represented a turnout failure, since the percentage of the statewide Democratic vote produced by the 8th, 10th and 11th in the 2008 presidential general election was only 33%.

Moreover, the parts of the state that produced a significantly higher percentage of yesterday’s primary vote than in 2006 were not by and large “Deeds Country” in central or SW VA, but in Hampton Roads and the Richmond area. The (majority black) 3d CD’s share of the vote jumped from 8.9% in 2006 to 11.8% yesterday; that was the one district won by someone other than Deeds (Terry McAuliffe).

So there’s nothing funky about turnout patterns that had much to do with the ultimate results. And BTW, since there’s some talk about McAuliffe’s defeat representing the “end of Clintonism,” you can look at maps of the counties HRC won in the 2008 primaries and compare them to yesterday’s results and see that Deeds was especially strong exactly where she was.