For the Virginia Senate
Control of the upper house is in the balance, and some key races are in Northern Virginia.

Monday, October 15, 2007

AFTER A DECADE of Republican control, the Virginia Senate is up for grabs this year in a state that has tilted Democratic in several recent elections. With all 40 Senate seats (and much else) on the ballot Nov. 6, several of the key races are in Northern Virginia, whose political muscle in the General Assembly has not kept pace with its economic weight and exploding population. It's vital that the region field a strong legislative delegation for the coming battles in Richmond over transportation and education funding, illegal immigration, deficit-cutting, and more. The Post's endorsements in contested Senate races appear below in bold type.

District 27 : In this open-seat race, we support Republican Jill Holtzman Vogel, a lawyer who made her name as counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign during the Florida recount of 2000, as chief counsel to the Republican National Committee and as a political appointee in the federal Energy Department. She's also been heavily involved in state and local affairs, which has given her a solid grounding in the issues facing her largely rural district, comprising parts of Loudoun and Fauquier counties and points west. Articulate, fast on her feet and pragmatic, she is the sort of moderate Republican that has become scarce in Richmond. Her opponent, Democrat Karen Schultz, is a respected, hardworking educator, school board member and community leader but lacks Mrs. Vogel's spark and command of state issues.

District 28 : Two smart, substantive centrists face each other here in an open-seat race to replace the retiring Sen. John H. Chichester, the revered chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in a sprawling district that includes booming Stafford County and Virginia's Northern Neck. Our pick is Democrat Albert C. Pollard Jr., who distinguished himself in three terms in the House of Delegates as a thoughtful and independent-minded lawmaker committed to transparency and ethics in government. His opponent, Republican Richard Stuart, is a lawyer and part-time prosecutor who is well respected and able but whose attempts to outflank Mr. Pollard on illegal immigration have fallen short.

District 29 : Charles J. Colgan, who entered the Senate during the Ford administration, remains, at age 81, a conscientious, influential lawmaker who is much admired in this district covering Manassas, Manassas Park and much of Prince William County. If the Democrats gain control of the Senate, he would be in line to chair the powerful Finance Committee. His opponent, Bob FitzSimmonds, a small-business owner and longtime Republican operative, has taken a pledge not to raise taxes; unfortunately, he cannot explain convincingly how he would then meet the region's transportation funding needs.

District 31 : With decades of smart public service, seniority and an almost invisible opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple should win this race in a walk. Serving on the Arlington County School Board and the County Board, working with regional agencies and representing parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties in the legislature, Ms. Whipple has led efforts to improve education, transportation, affordable housing, health care and the environment. If Democrats take over the Senate, she also would be in line for a key leadership position. Her opponent, Samuel D. Burley, running as an Independent Green Party candidate, has yet to appear at a forum, lists no civic activities and, when asked in a questionnaire why he should be elected, replied, "I have no political experience."

District 33 : The incumbent, Democrat Mark R. Herring, entered the Senate only last year after winning a special election but has already made a mark pushing for transportation projects in this district, which includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties. His Republican opponent, Patricia Phillips, is a conservative who spent 11 years as the Virginia state director of Concerned Women for America, which champions social wedge issues; her assertion that, if elected, she'd focus on issues closer to home rings hollow.

District 34 : Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis , first elected to the legislature as a conservative Republican, has scrambled to reposition herself as this Fairfa x County district has turned solidly Democratic. Her transformation has prompted knowing smiles from politicos, but it's certainly been energetic: This year she pushed hard to persuade hard-liners in her own party to accept a $400 million transportation funding plan for Northern Virginia. Breaking again with GOP orthodoxy, she's also backed more extensive background checks for gun buyers. In the year's most closely watched and expensive Senate contest, she faces Democrat Chap Petersen, a tough-minded, intelligent former state delegate whom we've backed in past races for other offices. In this campaign, though, Ms. Devolites Davis, a competent, hardworking legislator, has the edge and deserves reelection.

District 35 : Incumbent Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, a shrewd, voluble Democrat who entered the Senate 27 years ago, faces nominal opposition in this Fairfax district from an Independent Green Party candidate named Mario Palmiotto, who has raised no money and waged no campaign. If his party recaptures the upper house, it is likely that Mr. Saslaw, now the Senate Democratic leader, would become majority leader and the most powerful Northern Virginian in Richmond.

District 37 : There's not much to choose from here. Incumbent Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II is a highly intelligent and capable Republican whose doctrinaire, at times obstructionist, views on taxes and social issues have alienated his own party's more moderate leadership in the Senate. While he finally did vote this year for a bill to provide new roads for Northern Virginia, it was only after repeatedly helping to block better ones. Democrat Janet Oleszek is a Fairfax County School Board member who has run a lackluster campaign, at times embarrassingly short on substance. The district, in Fairfax County, deserves better choices; we make no endorsement.

District 39: Republican Sen. James J. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. is an affable incumbent, but his scant command of policy and legislative issues has failed to impress. His Democratic rival, George L. Barker, a health-care planner, would make a far more able, detail-oriented and effective senator in this district straddling the Fairfax-Prince William line.

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