Virginia Notebook

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

RICHMOND

Now that Virginia legislators have left the state Capitol, the battle is on for control of the House of Delegates.

Democrats will be trying in the November election to pick up the six seats needed to regain control of the House, which the GOP captured in 1999.

A Democratic takeover would probably elevate House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (Henry) to the speaker's chair. Armstrong often jokes that he hasn't put any pictures on the walls of his office in the Capitol because he doesn't plan to stay long.

Armstrong is trying to raise several million dollars to help finance Democrats' efforts to regain the majority. He will be aided by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as well as the eventual Democratic nominee for governor.

In an interview last week, Kaine took a more realistic approach when it came to assessing Democrats' chances. In a comment that infuriated some House Democrats, Kaine said he thinks his party has a 40 percent chance to retake the House.

"What are the chances on the House side that we are going to win? I would say maybe 40 percent," Kaine said. "But that is a good enough percentage to say, 'Let's go after it, and who knows, we might get a break or two with retirements. We might get a break or two in a primary.' "

Kaine quickly noted that at this stage of the election cycle in 2007, he would have pegged Democrats' chances to retake the Senate at about 35 percent. But several conservative Republican candidates emerged from the party primaries, and suddenly Democrats were playing offense in eight GOP-held Senate seats. They won half of the 2007 contests, giving them the majority in the Senate for the first time since 1997.

Democrats also picked up four House seats in that election, which, along with another win in a special election a few weeks later, laid the groundwork for their efforts this year to regain the majority.

In 2007, however, House and Senate Republicans appeared to be in disarray when it came to campaign strategy and candidate recruitment. Leaders of the Virginia GOP vow that they will not make the same mistakes this year. House Speaker William J. Howell (Stafford) is planning a national fundraising tour and the GOP candidate recruitment process has been underway for months.

Democrats could also find themselves in search of a unifying rallying cry this year.

In 2007, Democrats benefited from voter frustration with the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. Democrats also gained traction by highlighting the role that House and Senate Republicans played in enacting new bad-driver fees. The penalties have been repealed.


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