|Precincts where Webb won by a larger raw vote margin and Webb precincts that flipped to McCain track almost perfectly with income. Below, I have overlaid median household income from the 2000 Census by block group (exact precinct splits are unavailable).
These areas are a problem for the 2009 Democratic slate. While keeping the Bush-era tax cuts for families making under $200,000 covered the majority of Americans, it did not cover people in these problem precincts. They voted for Jim Webb for social reasons--disgust at his thinly veiled racism, and cultural disillusionment with the "Old Virginia" mentality that had been antagonizing them for years. However, 2008 carried few of those currents, and a direct economic hit to high-income voters who were loath to see their taxes raised.
In 2009, Democrats and Republicans have almost switched roles from 2006--and that is a huge problem for the Democratic ticket. Bob McDonnell is trying to cast high-income areas of Northern Virginia against the rest of the state. McDonnell has plastered "Fairfax's Own" on yard signs here, and is hammering Creigh Deeds on taxes and spending.
Deeds must hold on to high-income precincts that voted for Jim Webb by convincing them that he will fight for Northern Virginia's interests, and unlike Mark Warner in 2001 and Tim Kaine in 2005--urban Democrats running against rural Republicans--Deeds will not be able to seize onto that by default like his predecessors did.
Without the cultural currents in 2001, 2005, and 2006 that pitted Northern Virginia embodied in an Democratic urban candidate against Southern Virginia embodied in a Republican rural candidate, Democrats will repeat 2008 when economic interests trumped social interests for high-income voters. This time, however, we won't have a surge of lower and middle-income voters because they are less likely to turn out. This time, we have an urban Republican running against a rural Democrat.
This is not to say Creigh Deeds is doomed--this might not matter at all if McDonnell's Northern Virginia messaging falls flat. And if Deeds is truly able to bring out the first-time and rare voters that propelled Obama to huge margins in dark blue precincts, then this doesn't matter for him. Just because he doesn't make Northern Virginians believe that he is one of them by default like his predecessors doesn't mean that he can't either convince them of that fact, or use social issues to negate McDonnell's economic and cultural appeal. That's why Deeds hammering McDonnell on touchy issues like choice and guns has the potential to be a great issue--only when you have a rural Democrat versus an urban Republican can Democrats gain by going after social issues.
There are important downticket considerations also. We include below the most-affected House of Delegates races this year by a potential cleavage of the electorate along income lines:
Using this income map tells us quite a bit about the internal dynamics of the districts highlighted above.
34th District - Del. Margi Vanderhye (D)
Margi Vanderhye won by the narrowest of margins in 2007, and is the Democrat in the gravest peril this year. Running against a well-funded opponent with strong national connections, Vanderhye can ill afford top-ticket Democrats losing upper-income voters to Bob McDonnell. Her district is composed nearly entirely of the richest of the rich in the entire Commonwealth.
35th District - OPEN
Democrat Mark Keam, hoping to succeed Del. Steve Shannon, has a far tougher fight than appears on the surface--and Democrats ignore his race at their peril. This district was never comfortably Democratic, and if high-income Vienna and Oakton revert back to their Republican ways from earlier in the decade, there is an outside chance we will lose this seat.
40th District - Del. Tim Hugo (R)
Democrats couldn't even scratch up an opponent here--and Obama won this district by
double digits! (5%) Why? In off-years, turnout in the blue precincts falls through the floor, and upper-income voters in Clifton and western Centreville dominate the electorate. As a more practical matter, Democrats find playing offense in the field more difficult than Republicans. Republicans are able to canvass hard Democratic areas that are zoned for townhouses and dense single-family development, but Democrats are unable to do the same in Republican areas restricted to 1 lot per 5 acres.
42nd District - Del. Dave Albo (R)
Democratic challenger Greg Werkheiser faces less of a problem here than other Democrats in the county, but there are sections in Fairfax Station that are high-income that voted McCain-Allen. Albo was going to win most of those areas anyway. Albo's weakness with regards to income lie in the northern part of the district, which he has historically done well in. They are less likely to respond to McDonnell's messaging than voters out west.
44th District - OPEN (D)
You see here why Republican Jay McConnville even has a prayer in a district that voted for Obama by double digits. Look at the upper-income precincts along the Potomac River--they might've put on a blue shirt in 2006 and 2008, but they bleed green and red (money and Republican).
67th District - Del. Chuck Caputo (D)
You see why Caputo, while winning, has never won comfortably. Precincts north of US 50 are higher-income and higher-turnout than the Democratic, but low-turnout precincts on the south side.
Special thanks to Not Larry Sabato, who got this train rolling in my head with "Hey, I've got a map idea for you"--a useful sentence if I ever heard one.