Back in February of 2008, John McCain brought home a commanding performance in the Old Dominion and defeated Mike Huckabee 50.04% to 40.67%, with the rest of the vote scattered between Ron Paul (4.50%), Mitt Romney (3.68%), and others. But within the 5th District, Mike Huckabee seized victory with 52.04% of the vote to McCain's 41.10%. Ron Paul (3.33%) and Mitt Romney (2.70%) rounded off most of the remaining votes.
But the results in the 5th District demonstrated a geographic divide between the two candidates. John McCain won Albemarle, Charlottesville, Fluvanna, Nelson, Buckingham, Prince Edward, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Brunswick. He practically tied Huckabee in Cumberland.
Mike Huckabee won in Greene (the only non-Roanoke area county he won in the 5th outside of the tie in Cumberland), Appomattox, Charlotte, Halifax, Pittsylvania, Danville, Martinsville, Henry, Franklin, Bedford, and Campbell. McCain still did well in many of these counties, but seems to have hit a wall before the western edge of Pittsylvania, Campbell, and Appomattox. McCain goes from a respectable second place of over 40% in places like Halifax and Charlotte County to getting swamped by Huckabee almost two to one.
The 5th District has some very clear divides in it. And in a low turn-out election these divides can make a big difference. Charlotte and Lunenburg counties are virtually identical clones in terms of being small, rural counties. The only reason I can provide for the 10 point swing in the Republican primary from February, 2008, is that Lunenburg is in the Richmond DMA and Charlotte is in the Roanoke DMA. At the time I believe, but I am not 100% positive, that Huckabee was focusing his campaign more in the Roanoke area along with the Southwest and Shenandoah Valley.
During this primary, Charlottesville and Albemarle cast around 18% of all votes in the 5th District. Compare this to the general election months later when the two localities cast a little less than 22% of all votes in the District. But they cast 15% of all votes for John McCain in the district.
Let's look at the Democratic side of this equation. Barack Obama slaughtered Hillary Clinton in the February Virginia primary 64% to 35%. In the 5th, he won by a similar 65% to 34%. Clinton was able to only pull together a small victory in Franklin and Bedford. The Clinton-Obama matchup statewide looks very similar to the Huckabee-McCain matchup except that the "fall line" between the two candidates is farther to the west in the Democratic primary.
In this contest, Charlottesville and Albemarle cast around 32% of the votes in the 5th District. Months later, Charlottesville and Albemarle would represent only 22% of all votes in the 5th District but 29% of the votes for Barack Obama.
Charlottesville and Albemarle seem to be heavy hitters in low turnout primaries, at least above their overall weight in the district. This isn't surprising because we know that political activism, the likelihood that someone will vote, is correlated with socioeconomic factors like education level and income. Wealthier, more educated localities will vote at a higher rate in primaries that poorer, less educated localities.
I won't go through this analysis for all the localities, at least not yet. But I think this gives an edge to candidates trying to appeal to the more affluent suburbs around Charlottesville. Right now Hurt doesn't have a foothold in this area and his only silver lining is that the large field of candidates may divide the vote against him. But we are looking at a primary that would be lucky to hit 40,000 votes. The PRESIDENTIAL primary in 2008 generated just over 42,000 voters in the 5th District. The last round of competitive Republican House primaries back in 2000 had around 40,000 votes each. On the low end, about 10,000 showed up to vote in the GOP statewide primaries in 2005.
Think about how few people that represents. Hell, Ken Boyd's 2007 reelection with 2,408 votes is more votes represents almost 6% of the vote for in a low 40,000 primary. I'm not saying that everyone who voted for Boyd from his 2007 reelection will turnout this time, but it just shows that a small number of people can and will make a difference in this primary.