“We made history tonight,” exclaimed Governor Tim Kaine on Tuesday night as Democrats regained a majority in the state Senate.
Democrats defeated three incumbents Republican Senators and won an open seat to regain the majority they lost following the 1995 election.
In the House of Delegates, Democrats increased their numbers by taking four seats previously held by Republicans.
Half of the Democratic gains in each chamber came here in Northern Virginia and the others occurred in the Hampton Roads region.
I thank the voters of the 38th House of Delegates district for refreshing my term of office on Tuesday!
I will soon begin my 16th session of the General Assembly and December 15 will mark the 15th anniversary of my first election.
I was 99th in seniority in the 100-member House during my first term. That is mighty low on the totem pole for a legislator.
Over the years, I have gradually moved up in seniority due to defeats, retirements, and deaths of more senior members.
When the 2008 session of the General Assembly convenes in January, I will be 21st in seniority.
The more seniority for me means the more clout I have to help you. Of course, we Democrats will all have a little more clout now.
As this election year began, the House of Delegates included 40 Democrats, 57 Republicans, and three Independents.
Of the 100 members, only 34 were opposed and, of that total, just11 races were considered competitive.
After Tuesday, it looks like there will be 44 Democrats, 54 Republicans, and two Independents.
Democrat Margi Vanderhye won the House seat held in the McLean area for over 30 years by retiring Delegate Vince Callahan.
A three-term GOP incumbent in Virginia Beach was also defeated and two open seats, including one in Prince William County, were won by Democrats.
The diminished GOP House majority should mean that Democrats go from eight seats to nine on each of the 22-member House committees.
Of course, the changes in the Senate of Virginia are even more significant.
Back in the Saddle
Don Beyer was Lieutenant Governor the last time Democrats had an absolute majority in the state Senate.
After the 1995 general election, there was a 20-20 tie in the Senate and Democrats and Republicans shared power.
Following the 1999 general election, the GOP gained an absolute majority. Going into this election, they had a 23-member majority.
This year, Senate Democrats targeted eight Republican Senate seats and won four of them to gain a 21-member majority, based on unofficial results.
Five Northern Virginia Democrats are in line to become Senate committee chairs, including Mary Margaret Whipple, the potential chair of the Rules Committee.
Other potential chairs include Senators Saslaw on Labor and Commerce, Colgan on Finance, Howell on Courts of Justice, and Tice on Agriculture.
This is all based on unofficial results and there may be recounts once the State Board of Elections certifies the official results later this month.
The threshold for a recount in Virginia is that the vote difference between the top two candidates in a race is less than 1-percent.
That looks to be the case in the Democratic House triumph in Virginia Beach, two Senate Republican victories, and one Democratic Senate win in this area.
Strategies and Tactics
Going into this election, strategists analyzed the results of the victories of U.S. Senator Jim Webb last year and Governor Tim Kaine the year before.
They found that several Republican incumbents represented districts where one or both of those Democrats had won a majority of votes.
The targeting of House and Senate GOP candidates was based on this information. Both sides also did statewide polling.
Polls confirmed that the overall political environment is trending Democratic because of the continued unpopularity of President Bush and Iraq War fatigue.
The Democratic polling found that the only weapon that Republicans could use against Democrats was immigration.
The GOP polling undoubtedly found the same thing and Republicans changed tactics to go on the offensive against illegal immigrants.
The issue resonated in Prince William and Loudoun Counties and contributed to failed efforts to defeat Republican incumbents.
The issue made incumbent Democratic Senator Chuck Colgan’s race competitive and may have saved Delegate Tom Rust’s seat.
One tactic that fell flat on its face was that employed by incumbent Republican Senator Jeannemarie Delolites-Davis.
She ran to the left of her victorious opponent, Democrat Chap Petersen, in an effort to capture moderate Democratic-leaning voters.
But, it only alienated the Republican base in that district and caused the National Rifle Association to come in to support the Democrat.
That certainly complicates the situation of her husband, Congressman Tom Davis, who supported his wife with time, money, and public statements.
Not only may he face a conservative primary challenge from his own party, but the potential for “Davis fatigue” from the general public.
Locally, Republicans in Mason District must have thought that Vellie Hall was their savior who could defeat Penny Gross.
They even printed their sample ballot there with her lavender campaign color. But, her wild claims against Penny just backfired.
Voters in Mason District knew and trusted Penny and she won a resounding victory, where she won every precinct.