The swing counties of central Virginia are a collection of three counties that hug southern Albermarle County. Together they make up only 50,000 residents. However they are a key part of any Republican or Democratic strategy to win in the 5th congressional district.
The three swing counties in central Virginia are Fluvanna, Nelson, and Buckingham. All three started as farming counties in the 1800s, but by the 2000s all three have diverged from each other, yet they still produce similar results.
Fluvanna County is the northernmost county in this group. It has a population of about 27,000. Most of the population is suburban and centered around the town of Palmyra. The average worker in Fulvana commutes to Charlottesville to work, and the county trends the same way that the western precincts in Albermarle county trend. While the county has moved to the left since 2000, it has stayed at roughly 52-45 in favor of Republicans since. Fluvanna is primed for a quick shift due to its low population. This is due to the county’s connection to Scottsville and other outer suburbs of Charlottesville such as Pantops and Rivanna.
Nelson County is the second largest with a population of about 15,000. In the 1800s the population of the county was centered in the rural areas in the east of the county, most notably in Schuyler. In more recent times, the population has moved to the west of the county; more specifically, they’ve moved to the west of US 29. The largest towns are Lovingston and Nelleysford, both of which are in the mountains.
Major tributaries of the James River and the Tye, Piney, Buffalo, and Rockfish rivers are located in the county, leading it to have great natural water resources. This has led to a large expansion of the alcohol industry in the county along route 151. Bold Rock Cidery, Devils Backbone Brewery, and Silverback Distillery are located in Nellysford. The best way to describe the voters of the area is environmentally focused rednecks. They are open to just about any political position as long as you give it to them with moderate rhetoric. If you do not give them that, they will default to voting for Republicans.
The last county is Buckingham County. This is still a rural farming county that has become detached to just about every county around it. The population is very spread out on small farms and small towns. An example is the county seat Dilwyn. This is a county that has not grown in years and never recovered from the decline of the tobacco industry. The voters are very focused on candidates who base their message about bringing jobs and industry back to the area. The only thing keeping Democrats competitive is 35% of the county is African American.
The big picture
In the big picture, these counties do not mean that much as they are only about 50,000 people and they cancel each other out. If you go one level down to the House, however, they become key counties. No Democrat can realistically win the 5th district without these counties. Albermarle County and Danville cannot outvote the rest of the district without them.
Neither Bob Good nor Cameron Webb are good choices for these three counties. If Webb can juice up African American turnout in Buckingham, tap into the Riggleman voters in Nelson, and make inroads in the suburbs in Fluvanna as they trend further to the left, then he could win them.
Bob Good also does not have any real appeal to these counties. Nelson county is Denver Riggleman’s home county and is full of voters that like moderate rhetoric. If Good maintains his firebrand standing, he does run the risk of losing ground in Nelson. the only real saving grace is that all three counties are Republican by default. Therefore, Good has a much easier time of winning these counties than Webb does.
These are counties that both parties have to be careful with during redistricting. Together, they make over half of a Delegate’s seat and about a quarter of a Senate seat. A slightly red senate seat or a pure tossup delegate seat is an easy thing to create. You also could create multiple Lean D seats by just adding parts of Albermarle County to each of the three counties.
If you are watching an election in Virginia, pay attention to these counties. If the swing counties of central Virginia go blue statewide, you can call it for Democrats. On the congressional level, if they go red you can call it for Republicans. They are a small picture of the different forces that are affecting the exurban and rural parts of the state.