Swinging Suffolk

Published 6:21 pm Saturday, October 27, 2012

Some call city an electoral bellwether; others disagree

Calling Suffolk a “swing city” might not make it as exciting as it sounds.

The Associated Press, in an independent analysis, has identified Suffolk as one of 106 swing localities from throughout the entire nation likely to help turn the tide of the presidential campaign.

It did so by analyzing the vote tallies from the 2004 and 2008 elections in nine “swing states,” including Virginia. It then zeroed in on the counties and cities that went for one party in 2004 and then voted for the other side of the aisle in the next election.

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Suffolk earned the distinction by having chosen then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama over John McCain by more than 13 percentage points in 2008. Only four years prior, though, Suffolk went for George W. Bush over John Kerry by about 5 percentage points.

In both cases, Suffolk chose the eventual winner of the state and the election overall. But in the two prior elections, the city’s pick did not win the state.

In 2000, Suffolk chose Democratic nominee Al Gore by a narrow margin, but Bush would go on to win the state and the Electoral College. In 1996, Suffolk picked the eventual winner of the national election — Bill Clinton — but Clinton didn’t carry Virginia.

It’s looking to be a tight race for Virginia again this year. Less than two weeks from Election Day, the state remains one of only four “true toss-ups” in the eyes of University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, whose pre-election picks at all levels of government are renowned for their accuracy.

“Virginia … might be tilting toward Romney, but only by a hair,” Sabato wrote on his “Crystal Ball” blog. “Rumors of Virginia’s demise as a swing state are highly exaggerated.”

Sabato named Colorado, Wisconsin and New Hampshire as the other states that remain too close even to guess. He promised, however, to make his picks for all the states on Nov. 1.

Back in Suffolk, donations from city residents to the campaigns fail to present a clear picture of who will win the city. Through Aug. 31, Romney was leading in Suffolk donations with $12,100 to the president’s $11,295. Obama’s donations came almost entirely from the 23434 and 23435 ZIP codes, while Romney cleaned up especially in the 23436, 23438 and 23433 ZIP codes.

Local party chairmen acknowledged the city is liable to swing but disagreed on whether Suffolk can accurately predict the state’s pick.

“I think that Suffolk is a microcosm of Virginia and reflective of the state overall,” said Art Bredemeyer, chairman of the Suffolk Democratic Committee.

But his Republican counterpart disagreed.

“I just don’t see it as a bellwether for the state,” said Stephen Trent, chairman of the Suffolk Republican Party.

The prognosticators will have their shame or vindication on Nov. 6.