By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Virginia Republicans appeared to pick up at least five seats in the House of Delegates in Tuesday's election, reversing Democratic trends in Washington's outer suburbs and marking the first time since 2001 that the party has increased its majority in the General Assembly.
Bolstered by a wave of support for Republican Robert F. McDonnell in the governor's race, the GOP unseated incumbent Democrats in House races in Fairfax and Prince William counties, handily winning House districts that President Obama carried in last year's presidential race.
Republican James M. LeMunyon unseated two-term Del. C. Charles Caputo in Fairfax, and Republican challenger Thomas A. "Tag" Greason handily defeated Del. David E. Poisson, who has represented eastern Loudoun County's 32nd District for two terms. In Prince William, Richard L. Anderson appears to have defeated freshman Del. Paul F. Nichols (D) by 200 votes with all ballots counted.
In District 34, which encompasses Great Falls and McLean, Republican Barbara J. Comstock, a lobbyist, held a 300-vote lead over Del. Margaret G. Vanderhye (D), a freshman, with all precincts counted.
Comstock's apparent victory would be a huge boost for Republicans. Since Vanderhye's election in 2007, there has been no elected GOP state official representing an area that includes inner-Beltway neighborhoods.
In the Fairfax race to replace Del. Steve Shannon (D), who did not seek reelection because he ran for attorney general, Mark Keam (D) was clinging to a 300-vote lead over Republican James Hyland.
Although largely overshadowed by the contests for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, all 100 delegate seats were on the ballot. In the closing weeks of the campaign, both political parties spent millions of dollars on several races with candidates battling block by block for votes.
Republicans control 53 House seats and Democrats, 45. Two independents caucus with the Republicans.
Only six seats shy of a majority, Democratic leaders began this year with high hopes that they would be able to retake the House. But as summer turned to fall, Republicans grew increasingly optimistic that the national mood and McDonnell's lead in the governor's race would help the party's entire ticket.
"If you have good candidates and a good climate, 'Katy, bar the door,' " said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem). "Clearly, there has been a resurgence of our party."
Many GOP challengers tried to tie Democratic incumbents to the issues of taxes and spending, hoping their races became mini-referendums on the political debate in Washington.
"It's been difficult to buck the headwind of the national mood," said Del. Kenneth R. Plum (Fairfax), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
In Fairfax, Democrats were targeting Republican Dels. David B. Albo and Thomas Davis Rust, but both easily won their races. Downstate, GOP challenger James W. "Will" Morefield defeated Del. Danny C. Bowling (D-Tazewell) in Southwest Virginia, and Republican Chris Stolle unseated Del. Joseph F. Bouchard (D-Virginia Beach). Republican T. Scott Garrett also unseated Del. Shannon R. Valentine (D-Lynchburg).
But Democrats succeeded in claiming two Republican seats. In the battle to replace retiring Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (R-Prince William), Democrat Luke Torian claimed a narrow victory over Republican Rafael Lopez.
Del. Phillip A. Hamilton (R) lost to his Democratic challenger, Robin A. Abbott, in Newport News. Hamilton, a 21-year incumbent, has been tarnished by a scandal stemming from a potential conflict of interest in which he tried to get a job at Old Dominion University while securing state money for the school.
GOP strategists were also optimistic that their party would pick up a second seat in Virginia Beach. With all the precincts counted, Republican Ron A. Villanueva had beaten Del. R.W. "Bobby" Mathieson (D-Virginia Beach) by 16 votes.
If Mathieson loses, Republicans will have won back both of the seats in Virginia Beach that they lost in 2007. At the time, Democratic gains in that region were heralded as a sign that the traditionally conservative city was shifting politically toward Democrats