NEW KENT — A federal appeals court judge's order last week to redistrict coastal Virginia's congressional districts may move New Kent County out of the 7th District, now represented by Rep. Dave Brat, R-Henrico, and into the 1st District, represented by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland.
The redistricting is the result of the court's decision that Virginia legislators overloaded the 3rd District with black voters following the 2010 census, minimizing black influence outside of that district.
A 2013 lawsuit accused legislators of racial gerrymandering by further concentrating blacks in the state's only black-majority district. The newly drawn map changes the makeup of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th districts.
It is not a guarantee that come primary season the new map will be enforced. In November the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from Virginia Republicans.
The move has the potential to alter the outlook of who will be the Republican nominee from the 7th District. Brat's strongest supporters in 2014 were in New Kent and Hanover, which will move to the 1st District. Brat took 65 percent of the vote in the two counties that year in his upset of then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. It was the first time a house majority leader was defeated in a primary.
New Kent Republican Chairman Mark Daniel said leaving Brat's district is a disappointment for many of the grass-roots level supporters in New Kent that helped him get elected.
"We really backed Brat strongly (in 2014), and they were getting geared up for the district meeting on Saturday where they will decide how to have the nomination," Daniel said. "And then our general counsel called and said 'There is no need for you to go.' We played a huge part in that (2014) history-making event, so I am sure there will be some of our supporters who are scratching their head."
Daniel said, however, that the New Kent Republicans will support Wittman, who he said "has high marks."
"The only thing you can depend on is that change is inevitable," he said. "We are looking forward to continuing what we do with Wittman."
As Brat prepares for the November election, he is facing a challenge from Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade, who registered his campaign for the 7th District Republican primary with the Federal Election Commission in December.
Wade, who has the backing of several former Cantor supporters, has attracted national media attention, as his campaign against Brat pits the GOP establishment versus the grass roots Tea Party movement.
If the court upholds the new district map, New Kent voters will be spectators to the Brat versus Wade contest. New Kent residents will instead cast their vote in the First District, where Wittman will be running for reelection before mounting a campaign for governor that he announced to the Washington Post in December.
First District Republican chairman Eric Herr said he is not aware of any challengers to Wittman for the Republican nomination at this point, but he said he can not rule anything out.
Herr also said regardless of whether the federal ruling is overturned, he is confident in Wittmann's chances.
"The congressman will be strong in his race irrespective of whether it's the lines announced today or the old ones," he said.
McKinnon can be reached at 804-843-2283.