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Will GOP Rule Virginia? Recount Of 17th District Race to Decide

It’s going to take awhile after Tuesday’s election before Virginians will know for sure whether or not the Republican Party will be 100 percent in control of the state for at least the next two years.

A late-November recount is assured in the 17th Senate District race, which final unofficial returns showed a margin of only 86 votes out of 45,000 cast. At this moment, a first-time, conservative GOP challenger holds the lead. If that is confirmed by a recount, then the GOP will have ostensible control of the the State Senate along with its control of the House of Delegates and the statehouse.

A GOP win in that race – by Bryce Reeves over incumbent Edd Houck in the Spotsylvania-area district – will mean the Republicans picked up a net gain of two seats in the Senate to bring them dead-even, 20 to 20, with Democrats. With the Republican lieutenant governor Bill Bolling available to break tie votes, the body will effectively be in GOP control.

But the recount will not begin until the State Board of Elections certifies the Nov. 8 results, overall, on Nov. 28. Even if some contested provisional votes get counted in the meantime, the recount is assured.

The GOP gaining control of the Senate was the Democrats’ greatest fear in Virginia. Every legislative session in recent years, the GOP’s lopsided majority in the House of Delegates passed scores of extreme anti-immigrant, anti-abortion and anti-homosexual bills, all of which were blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Now that Senate “backstop” may not be there.

It will take at least two years before the situation could change. In 2014, elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general will be held, and if either the governor’s or lieutenant governor’s race are won by Democrats, then balance in Virginia’s government would be restored.

But that’s going to seem like a veritable eternity, and before that, the state will be embroiled in the presidential and U.S. Senate races next year.

While the overall outcome Tuesday was a clear Republican victory and Democratic defeat, at least one prominent local Democratic leader was definitely viewing the cup as “half-full” yesterday.

In an interview with the News-Press, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly said that Tuesday’s outcome bodes well for the chances of Democrats in 2013, for President Obama’s re-election bid and former Governor Tim Kaine’s U.S. Senate bid.

“Look, the Republicans threw over $5 million into gaining control of the Virginia State Senate,” Connolly said. “And what did they get? They’re clinging to an 86 vote lead to settle for a tie in that body.”

But moreover, the results in areas key for Democrats statewide, including Northern Virginia, Tidewater and Richmond, Democrats fared better than expected and a lot of fresh enthusiasm was tapped in the grass roots, Connolly said.

A number of predicted GOP gains in Fairfax County did not materialize, as Democratic incumbent State Senators George Barker, Dave Marsden and Toddy Puller held on for re-election, all Democratic incumbents on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors were re-elected with 60-plus percent of the vote, with one Democrat, Janet Oleszek, almost pulling an upset in the Braddock District, and Democrats picked up two new seats on the Fairfax County School Board.

In the Falls Church area’s closest race by far, Fairfax County School Board chair Janie Strauss held on to win re-election by a narrow margin, 13,122 to 12,128, despite a fierce campaign by civic activist Louise Epstein.

Sen. Dick Saslaw, and Democratic nominees Barbara Favola and Adam Ebbin won their 35th, 31st and 30th State Senate races handily, Incumbents won State Delegate races in the area as well, including Democratic delegates Jim Scott, Kaye Kory and Janet Howell and Republican Barbara Comstock. Unchallenged Democrat Theo Stamos won the Arlington Commonwealth Attorney job, and in the City of Falls Church, a referendum to move local elections from May to November won by a two-to-one margin.

With his victory, Ebbin becomes the first openly gay person elected to the Virginia State Senate.

Incumbent Democratic Fairfax County Supervisors Penny Gross, Linda Smyth and John Foust all won handily, as did Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova.

After 10 p.m. Tuesday, it became evident that the 17th District race was decisive for overall control of the State Senate, and with only two precincts left to report, the State Board of Elections website showed Houck with a 160-vote lead.

Democratic activists were breaking out the champagne as the prospect of holding onto the Senate, and State Del. David Englin declared Houck the winner in a tweet.

But, suddenly, the results posted on the state’s website flipped, and the Republicans’ Reeves enjoyed a 150-vote lead, winding up 86 votes ahead when 100 percent of the precincts were reported.

Connolly told the News-Press yesterday, “There were numerous transposition of numbers in the reporting of that count. I have no confidence in the preliminary numbers. It is a critical race and we will take great care to make sure the people’s choices will be reflected and honored.”