Va. Democrats Take Control of State Senate

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007; 1:35 AM

Virginia Democrats wrested control of the state senate from Republicans Tuesday, gaining four additional seats to secure a 21-19 majority in the chamber for the first time in a decade. The party also made historic gains in the House of Delegates and won key local races.

In a speech to Democratic Party activists at a hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) hailed the political changes that have swept through Virginia, beginning with the election of Gov. Mark R. Warner in 2001, his own election four years later and last year's victory by U.S. Sen. James Webb.

In an interview moments later, Kaine said Democrats picked up four seats in the Senate, with two races still outstanding. "It's an exciting time," Kaine said. "The state is really a competitive state." The gains mean there is a new Democratic partner for him in Richmond, he said. "It enables me to get even more done," Kaine said.

Kaine's comments came as the votes were still being counted across the commonwealth. But what was clear to the governor was already emerging in the tallies: Democrats in Virginia made big gains in the legislature and in key local races as the commonwealth's voters continued to dramatically shift their preferences away from the Republican elected leadership they installed during the 1990s.

The party won at least four key state Senate races -- including a bitter and costly battle between Democrat J.C. "Chap" Petersen and Republican incumbent Jeannemarie Devolites Davis -- giving them outright control in the chamber, which has been under Republican control since 1997. In the House, they gained at least four seats, with one race in the Reston area too close to call.

Petersen said he was "very, very pleased." He attributed his wide margin to voter fatigue with Republican rule: "No doubt being a Democrat was helpful. That was a piece of the puzzle."

The key to Democratic hopes was secured by Fairfax voters, who reversed control of the Senate by ousting Republican incumbent J.K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. from his seat in the western part of the county.

Kaine declared victory early based on a win by Democrat George L. Barker, who was leading by about 700 votes last night with the absentee ballots still to be counted. News organizations, including the Associated Press and The Washington Post, waited until about 1:30 a.m. to call Barker the winner.

Also in Fairfax, incumbent Republican Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II was neck-and-neck with Democratic challenger Janet S. Oleszek. If Oleszek wins, Democrats would extend their majority in the Senate to 22-18.

Barker's win was part of a Democratic surge in the county: Incumbent Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry E. Connolly (D) trounced his opponent. And Petersen easily defeated Davis despite the efforts of her husband, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R).

In claiming the Senate, Democrats prepared to install longtime Fairfax Sen. Richard L. Saslaw as majority leader and seize the chairmanships of key committees that control social legislation, crime issues, land-use and transportation policy.

Saslaw said the results proved that efforts by Republicans to focus voter attention on illegal immigration did not work.

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