Even when Republican Tom Davis first won the Virginia congressional district centered on affluent Fairfax County during the GOP’s 1994 landslide, the area wasn’t a lily-white, Leave It to Beaver suburb. But at that point, minorities were the rainbow sprinkles on a mostly vanilla cone: Nonwhites represented slightly less than one-fourth of the district’s population.
In the redistricting that followed the 2000 census, the Virginia Republicans who controlled the process modestly altered the seat to incorporate more white Republican-leaning voters. Yet, by the time Davis retired in 2008, the district’s flavor had been radically changed by a steady influx of Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics, many of them well-educated entrepreneurs drawn by Fairfax’s burgeoning high-tech economy. By 2008, Fairfax public schools were sending home official notices in seven languages (including Korean and Urdu), and Census Bureau figures showed that the minority share of the district’s population had soared past 42 percent. Davis, a skilled and moderate politician, might have navigated these changes for years. But when he stepped down last year, another skilled moderate–Democrat Gerald Connolly, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors–captured the seat, easily defeating a Republican who outspent him.
Demography alone didn’t deliver the district to Democrats: Connolly also benefited from his party’s growing strength among the well-educated, socially liberal white voters who crowd into comfortable suburbs such as Fairfax. But the explosive growth in the minority population, at a time when minorities have tilted increasingly toward Democrats, was central to Connolly’s victory in a district that had been drawn to elect Republicans.