Virginia Senate: Democrats Cling to Power with Special Elections Ahead

posted Josh Goodman If you thought Virginia's major elections were over, think again. The Old Dominion just elected a new governor, lieutenant governor (well, ...
by | November 13, 2009

posted Josh Goodman

If you thought Virginia's major elections were over, think again. The Old Dominion just elected a new governor, lieutenant governor (well, they elected the old lieutenant governor) attorney general and House of Delegates. But, the next big election is for state senate, even though Virginians aren't scheduled to vote again for state senators until 2011.

The Democrats retain a 21-19 majority in the Senate, an edge they fought for and won in the 2007 elections. But, that majority is quite tenuous. In that caucus, the party has a member who considered joining the Republican caucus earlier this year, an 83-year-old who only reluctantly sought reelection in 2007 and a member who sounds vaguely open to joining the administration of Republican Governor-elect Bob McDonnell.

For now, the Democratic caucus seems to be sticking together well, but it only takes one party-switch, appointment or early resignation for the Democratic majority to be jeopardized. With the lieutenant governor a Republican, a one-seat gain for the G.O.P. would give them control of the body and complete control of Virginia state government. The Washington Post reports:

McDonnell is widely thought to be looking for a Democrat in the senate who might be interested in a new job, whose seat the GOP might be able to pick up in a special election and deprive Democrats their 21-seat majority.

Even if Republicans don't gain a seat, Democrats' narrow majority looks problematic. The caucus, which includes some fairly conservative members, would have to vote unanimously to be guaranteed of blocking Republican efforts.

On, say, redistricting (one of the big reasons control of the Virginia Senate is so significant), you can easily imagine Republicans designing a map that is generally favorable to their party, but which suits the interests of a particular Democratic senator. In that way, Republicans could get the defection they need to pass their plan.

So, obviously, Virginia Democrats would be much better off if they could somehow expand their majority. The good news for them is that they'll get that chance quite soon.

Two Virginia Republican senators won other offices last week, which means their seats will open for special elections. Democrats don't appear as though they will seriously contest one of those seats, in a Republican-tilting district in Virginia Beach. The other one, though, is a different story.

That's attorney general-elect Ken Cuccinelli's seat in Fairfax County. It's definitely competitive. Cuccinelli only won reelection in 2007 by 92 votes, out of more than 37,000 cast.

With the race having such sizable redistricting implications, I'm sure that it will attract tons of money and attention. The special election will be a good test of whether Democrats in Virginia are newly motivated after having been beaten so badly or whether Republicans can continue their momentum.

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