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Va. Senate Democrats' Edge Little Comfort

Saslaw said he is not worried about Northam or other senators switching parties, but he declined to elaborate. "That's not going to happen," Saslaw said.

After decades of Democratic rule, Republicans and Democrats began sharing power in the Senate in 1996. In 2000, Republicans took full control of the chamber. In 2007, Democrats rode a national anti-Republican wave and flipped the chamber back.

During the period of GOP control, moderate Republicans aligned with Democrats over such hot-button issues as abortion and gun control, as well as on spending and taxes. But after repeated electoral losses, Republicans have become more unified.

"In the last two years, we have tried to take a different approach," Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) said. "We try to iron out our differences internally instead of externally."

During the busy midpoint of the legislative session, Norment took Democrats by surprise when he introduced a proposal to add a Republican co-chairman to the two most powerful committees, Finance and Courts of Justice, and add a Republican member to Courts of Justice to ensure an even split between parties.

Northam said he had agreed to vote for the change, which would have split the chamber 20-20 and left Bolling to break the tie in favor of the Republicans.

In Capitol Square, there was mounting buzz about a possible coup in the Senate. Giddy GOP senators shared the news with their colleagues in the House.

Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, sent out a message on Twitter: "Big news coming out of Senate: Apparently one dem is either switching or leaving the dem caucus. Negotiations for power sharing underway."

Democrats quickly went behind closed doors, where yelling ensued. Saslaw then escorted Northam to Kaine's office in the nearby Patrick Henry Building for a talk with the governor. Kaine, who is credited with helping Democrats take control of the Senate and now heads the Democratic National Committee, declined to talk about the meeting later, calling it an internal Senate matter.

It was over quickly. When senators returned to the chamber, Norment withdrew his proposal for reorganizing the committees, knowing that he no longer had the votes.

Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), a close ally of Norment's, said Republican leaders have never directly asked Northam or another senator to switch parties. But other GOP sources say the offer has been floating for months.

"We are trying to get some balance,'' Stolle said. "We are not grabbing power. It's about good government."


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