Everyone has been talking about the effect of redistricting on the 2nd and 4th district races, particularly Randy Forbes' switcheroo. But the new Virginia district map even affects those representatives in less competitive districts.
Case in point: Congressman Rob Wittman dropped by my college campus in Ashland this week. Under the redrawn lines, Ashland and parts of Hanover County that used to be Brat Country are now in Wittman's 1st District.
While Wittman is seen as an establishment Republican, he hasn't felt the full force of the anti-establishment ire that helped Brat defeat Eric Cantor in 2014. Still, there was some concern that the addition of Hanover Republicans to Wittman's district would empower those very same anti-establishment forces to mount a primary challenge from the right. Wittman smartly is taking no chances; he's been on a barnstorming tour, getting to know his new constituents.
Wittman spent an hour answering questions from our students. He demonstrated an ease with facts and numbers, answering in considerable detail a question about Omega Protein and its fishing of menhaden (apparently an important fish) out in Reedville, VA. (Credentials don't mean everything, but I should note that Wittman has a PhD in Public Policy from VCU. This is something that he doesn't talk about much in Republican circles, which are not so favorable to ivory-tower academics.) When asked about his best moment in Congress, Wittman noted his bipartisan work on protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
Showing how smart you are and touting your work on the environment may not be the best way to prevent Tea Partiers from challenging you in a primary. But Wittman has another agenda: he's already announced he will be running for Governor next year. And playing up bipartisanship, your work on environmental and economic issues surrounding the Bay, and even expertise ARE good ways to appeal to an increasingly diverse and divided Virginia electorate. It's good purple politics, and Wittman's careful practice of it means that Ed Gillespie may have his hands full in the Republican gubernatorial primary next year.