A Few Races Could Swing The Assembly
Thursday, November 1, 2007
RICHMOND The battle over which party controls the Virginia General Assembly after Tuesday's election will come down to a handful races, the bulk of which are in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
Although the seats of all 140 delegates and senators are up for election, most incumbents are running unopposed or face nominal challenges.
Most Democratic incumbents in Arlington County and Alexandria are likely to coast to reelection because of the party's traditional advantage there. Most Republican delegates and senators in suburban Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley also are expected to be returned to office.
But fierce contests are being waged in Fairfax and Prince William counties as well as in the Tidewater area, parts of the state that have undergone significant demographic shifts during the past two decades.
Reflecting the stakes involved, candidates are spending twice as much money this year as they did in the 2003 election. The party that holds the majority sets the agenda in the Senate and House. If Democrats take over the Senate, several Northern Virginia lawmakers would become chairmen of committees, giving the state's most populous region unprecedented clout in Richmond.
Backed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and former governor Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrats are hoping to pick up the four seats they need to regain control of the Senate.
In the House, Democrats are hoping to gain three to six seats, which would close the gap. There are currently 57 Republicans, 40 Democrats and three independents.
Republicans gained control of both chambers in 1999, a shift seen at the time as establishing a stronghold for the GOP in Virginia.
But Democrats have been on the rise after the election of two successive Democratic governors and James Webb's victory last year over Republican George Allen for the U.S. Senate.
The election also has high stakes for Kaine, who says he will be able to accomplish more (such as conserving more open space and expanding access to pre-kindergarten programs) if he has more Democratic allies in the General Assembly.
Since the start of the year, Kaine has raised at least $3 million to help Democratic candidates running for the House and Senate.
Kaine and fellow Democrats say Republicans have been too focused on divisive social issues instead of improving residents' quality of life by investing in schools, health care and efforts to protect the environment. Many Democrats also have painted their GOP opponents as supporters of abusive-driver fees, though Kaine has backed them.