Democrat Wins Virginia Senate Recount, Giving New Governor's Agenda a Crucial Boost

January 28, 2014

Democrats prepared to seize control of the Virginia Senate on Monday after winning a recount by just 11 votes in a razor-thin special election, giving Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s first-year agenda a crucial boost.

The win energizes a party that in recent years has had to depend on moderate GOP allies in the Senate to flex any legislative muscle in Richmond — even as Democrats have won every statewide election since 2012.

Although Republicans still overwhelmingly control the House of Delegates, Monday’s victory gives McAuliffe and his party new leverage as they try to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, grant new rights to same-sex couples and increase public school funding.

Both parties closely watched the recount in the Hampton Roads-based district because of its outsize importance to the balance of power in the Capitol.

Going into it, Del. Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. (D-Accomack) was ahead of Republican businessman Wayne Coleman by just nine votes. His lead grew to 11 by the end Monday after officials recounted some votes by hand and teams of lawyers from both sides wrangled over a handful of contested ballots. The final tally was 10,203 votes for Lewis and 10,192 for Coleman.

In an interview, Lewis declined to weigh in on the partisan implications of his victory and said he plans to work with “anybody who will advance the interests of the people I represent.” He said diversification of the Hampton Roads economy, long-dependent on defense spending, will be a major focus. “My top priority is representing my people and working hard for my people.”

Lewis had been certified the winner of the Jan. 7 contest to fill the state Senate seat vacated this month by Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D). But the slim margin entitled Coleman to a publicly funded recount.

The recount became all the more crucial last week, when Democrats kept the Northern Virginia seat previously held by Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D).

Now the chamber will remain evenly split, 20-20, but power will shift to Democrats because Northam, who presides over the Senate, has the authority to break most tie votes.

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