By Andrew Jenner, publisher
After the city’s last absentee ballots were counted by Saturday, there was no substantive change from the picture that had emerged late on Election Day — in either this year’s races or with longer-term trends.
The top two vote-getters in the city council race were Democrats, continuing an upward trajectory for candidates of that party. City voters have steadily increased their support for Democratic candidates in local, state and national races over the last two decades. In fact, Harrisonburg, much like Virginia as a whole, has flipped from voting reliably Republican in 2000 to solidly Democratic.
In the city council race, Mayor Deanna Reed, a Democrat, held on to her significant lead to finish as the top vote-getter with 9,007 votes. First-time candidate and fellow Democrat Laura Dent finished second with 7,993 votes. George Hirschmann, an independent and the race’s only other incumbent besides Reed, won the last remaining seat on council with 7,132 votes, according to the unofficial totals filed Saturday with the Virginia Department of Elections.
Charles Hendricks, a Democrat, and Kathleen Kelley, the only Republican candidate, finished with 6,820 and 4,911 votes, respectively.
Hirschmann, who was leading Hendricks by 298 votes by the end of Election Day, widened that margin slightly by 14 voted when the remaining absentee ballots were counted.
All three incumbents in a four-candidate race for school board were reelected by a comfortable margin. According to final unofficial results from the city registrar’s office, the top vote-getter was Deb Fitzgerald with 8,836 votes. Kaylene Seigle earned 7,234 while Nick Swayne finished with 6,740 votes. First-time candidate Irvin Peckham received 4,975 votes, according to the unofficial tallies filed with the state elections department.
In other races on the ballot:
- President-elect Joe Biden received 11,022 votes (64.5 percent), while incumbent President Donald Trump received 5,591 votes (32.7 percent).
- Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner won the city vote by an even wider margin, with 66.3 percent of the vote in his race against Republican Daniel Gade.
- In the 6th Congressional District race, Democratic challenger Nicholas Betts won 60.3 percent of the city’s vote in his race against Republican U.S. Rep. Ben Cline. Harrisonburg was one of the few localities Betts carried, as Cline was easily re-elected to a second term with 65 percent of the district-wide vote.
City’s leftward shift continues
As has been the case in recent elections, city voters preferred Democratic candidates in this year’s presidential and congressional races, something that didn’t routinely happen until the mid-aughts. In the 2000 presidential election, for example, Democrat Al Gore received just 35 percent of the city vote, compared to 57.7 percent for Republican George W. Bush. This year, those percentages were more than reversed, with 64.5 percent voting for Biden and 32.3 percent voting for Trump.
Hamilton Lombard, a demographer with the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center, said Harrisonburg is not unusual among independent cities in the region, many of which have shown similar shifts in voting patterns.
Lombard said a population’s age and housing status correlate with voting preference and that a young population with a high number of renters could be factors in Harrisonburg’s marked shift in voting in recent years.
Charlottesville, Winchester, Staunton and Waynesboro have been on similar trajectories in that span.
Over the period when the city electorate has become a reliable base of strong support for Democratic candidates, the combined vote in the city and county hasn’t changed nearly as much, however.
That can largely be explained by growth in the number of votes cast in the county.
In this year’s presidential election, the 38,526 votes cast in Rockingham County represented an increase of more than 14,000 votes compared to the 2000 presidential election.
In Harrisonburg, just over 7,000 more votes for president were cast this year as compared to 2000.
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