ROANOKE, Va. – If you’ve watched any television recently, you’ve been hit with an onslaught of political ads.
Outside of the statewide races, one race where each candidate has aired multiple commercials is the Virginia House of Delegates District 12 race between Chris Hurst and Jason Ballard.
In fact, for this election cycle, spending on broadcast television ads for this race is $860,065 — the second-most for any House of Delegates seat across the commonwealth, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Hurst, the incumbent and a Democrat, is looking to win his third term as Republican Jason Ballard opposes him on the ballot.
District 12 contains all of Giles County and the city of Radford, as well as parts of Montgomery and Pulaski counties.
In Southwest Virginia, only two districts west of Charlottesville are represented by a Democrat
- District 11, which only covers part of the city of Roanoke
- District 12
So what allows a district of about 45,000 active voters with less than 20% of them living in a city to elect a Democrat?
Two words: Virginia Tech.
The pie chart below shows gives a breakdown of the composition of the 45,126 active voters in District 12 as of Oct. 1, 2021.
The importance of Montgomery County in this race
Taking a closer look at Montgomery County, of the 18 precincts that are part of District 12, the seven closest to Virginia Tech’s campus contain 18,699 active voters.
That equates to 87.25% of the county’s portion of District 12 and 41% of the entire district’s active voter population.
The table below shows how those seven precincts voted during Hurst’s first two campaigns.
|Precinct||2017 Votes for Chris Hurst||2019 Votes for Chris Hurst|
As you can see, in both 2017 and 2019, Hurst handily won each of those seven precincts.
In terms of raw numbers, those precincts provided Hurst with 6,634 votes in 2017 and 6,037 in 2019. That’s 53.10% of all the votes he received in 2017 and 54.2% of his total votes in 2019.
So if as a whole, Montgomery County is solidly blue, how does Jason Ballard possibly win?
The answer to that is Giles County.
There’s one recent historical trait that makes Giles quite interesting.
From 2017 to 2019, unlike the other localities in this district, which saw the expected dip in voter turnout during a midterm election, Giles County saw a nearly 4% increase in voter turnout.
Not only that, but the county is solidly Republican.
In 2017, Giles County voted 72.69% for the Republican candidate and in 2019, 74.3%.
Giles County accounted for 40.55% of all votes for the Republican candidate in 2017 and 48.98% in 2019.
When Hurst first won the district in 2017, he defeated three-term incumbent Joseph Yost, a Giles County native.
Then, in 2019, Hurst defeated his challenger Forrest Hite, who moved to Radford about 10 years before running for office.
Ballard, who grew up in Giles County, is currently a member of the Pearisburg Town Council.
Of the nine voting precincts within the county, the Pearisburg precinct is the largest, with 3,104 active voters.
In 2017, that precinct saw 50.38% turnout and in 2019, 53.34% turnout. Each time, voting about 77% for the Republican candidate.
Something to keep an eye on during election night will certainly be the Pearisburg precinct.
What about Pulaski County and Radford?
While we’ve focused thus far on Montgomery and Giles County, the pie chart earlier in this article shows that 27% of the district’s active voters live in Radford and Pulaski County. That’s one percent higher than Giles County’s representation in the district.
Pulaski is interesting, with just two precincts, it went 54% for the Republican in 2017 and 60% in 2019.
As for Radford, it went 57% for Hurst in 2017 and then down to 54% in 2019.
So what’s all that mean?
In order to win, Jason Ballard needs the increase in Republican votes in both localities to continue.
See the path to victory for each candidate
I know you’ve just read A LOT of numbers and you might be a little confused about everything.
What I’ve created below is an interactive widget that allows you to simulate voting in District 12.
For each of the four localities within the district, you can adjust voter turnout and the percentage of votes for Chris Hurst. We chose to have the slider be percent for Hurst as he is the incumbent.
While using active voter numbers as of Oct. 1, 2021, we’ve set the widget to reflect the same percentages experienced during the 2019 election; however, it’s important to remember that since 2019 was a midterm election, it’d be highly unlikely to see that low of turnout this November.