Democrats Make Significant Gains In Virginia Legislature; Control Of House In Play

Democrats made significant gains Tuesday in Virginia’s House of Delegates, snaring at least 14 seats in an upset that stunned members of both parties and arrived with national implications.

Preliminary returns showed Democrats unseating at least 11 Republicans and flipping three seats that had been occupied by GOP incumbents who didn’t seek re-election. Four other races were neck-and-neck, and results will determine control of the chamber. The results marked the most sweeping shift in control of the legislature since the Watergate era.

Republicans, who have controlled the chamber since 2000, hold 66 of 100 seats.

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Several winners made history in a year in which a record number of women ran and Democrats fielded the most candidates in recent memory.

One Democrat became Virginia’s first openly transgender person to win elective office, unseating an opponent of LGBT rights. Eight of the 11 Democrats who unseated Republican men were women. And two of those women, both from Prince William County, became the first Latinas elected to the General Assembly.

Democrats benefited from gubernatorial contender Ralph Northam’s coattails: He won by nine points.

Control of the chamber may not be determined for days as provisional ballots are counted in narrow races. Two races appeared headed for a recount.

“Obviously, tonight was a difficult night and the outcome is not what anyone expected,” said Matt Moran, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus. “We also want to thank our colleagues and fellow Republican candidates who ran principled campaigns based on positive ideas in a difficult political environment. Our team is closely monitoring the canvasses that will take place tomorrow as we await the official results.”

The legislative races this year included the most contested by Democrats, and women, in modern history. Democrats put up candidates in 54 of the 66 seats that Republicans hold in the lower house of the state legislature. More than half of their candidates are women, and about a quarter are people of color or millennials.

Although House races are normally seen as the sleepy backwater to the gubernatorial contest, they generated a surge of interest this year from activists energized by Trump’s election and new groups that see the legislative contests as an opportunity to test strategies and technologies ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

Strategists said the results suggest trouble for Republicans.

“This is a tidal wave,” said David Wasserman, an analyst who tracks U.S. House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “It’s hard to look at tonight’s results and to conclude anything other than that Democrats are the current favorite for control of the House in 2018.”

Democrats appeared to be flipping the most seats in Northern Virginia as Northam posted a strong showing in the populous region.

Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates see a potential for pickups next year, if a court challenge of legislative district maps forces special elections, and in 2019 when all 100 seats are on the ballot again.

Republicans have a narrow 21-to-19 majority in the state Senate, where all seats are up in 2019.

Control of the governor’s mansion and legislature in Virginia has national implications. The General Assembly will draw congressional and state legislative district maps after the 2020 Census, and the governor has the power to veto those maps.

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