When the Virginia House of Delegates redrew its election districts earlier this year, many wondered how the lawmakers would survive under a plan that for the first time placed many in individual districts. The answer voters gave Tuesday was that the legislators had little to fear.
State Republicans won only one more seat in the chamber -- increasing their total to 34 of the 100 House members -- and overall there were few surprises and little change produced by the special elections for one-year terms in the General Assembly.
In Northern Virginia, the only shift in the 21-member delegation came with the victory of Democrat Nora Anderson Squyres over Republican incumbent Gwendalyn Cody in Fairfax County's 38th District. That gave Democrats a 12-to-9 hold on the delegation.
Cody could not be reached for comment yesterday but a spokesman for the Squyres campaign said Cody had indicated she wanted to wait for the returns to be made official before conceding the election. "The way I understood it, Cody wanted to keep her options open," said Mary Anne Hurt, comanager for Squyres.
Otherwise, Northern Virginia incumbents -- Republicans and Democrats -- were returned safely, many of them surviving the rigors of head-to-head fights in single-member districts for the first time.
One other Republican incumbent, Del. John Rust Jr. of Fairfax City, was defeated in the September primary but his seat remained in GOP control with the victory of retired Army colonel Stephen Gordy.
The new districts were created last spring after Virginia finally agreed to a Justice Department plan in the final act of a two-year battle over redistricting. The delegates had run for reelection last year, when Republicans gained a record eight seats, and will have to run again next year, when the 40-member Virginia Senate also is up for election.
Statewide, Republicans Tuesday lost four House seats, including Cody's, and gained five, according to House Minority Leader Vincent Callahan (R-Fairfax).
Two GOP victories came in the city of Richmond where Democratic incumbents Walter Emroch and Robison James were defeated.
Other Republican gains were made in suburban Henrico County, Bristol and in the suburbs of Charlottesville where George Allen, son of the Redskins' ex-coach, narrowly defeated Democratic Del. James Murray, an eight-year legislative veteran. A recount is expected in that race.
The Democrats picked up seats in the southwest, where challenger Robert Dopyns defeated 10-year Republican veteran Ward Teel of Christiansburg by nearly 2,000 votes, and in Chester, where freshmen GOP Del. Robert Russell was defeated narrowly by challenger John Dicks III.
Republicans, who had been expected to benefit most from the new House districts, were unable to unseat Democrats Alan Diamonstein, state Democratic Party chairman, and Del. Owen Pickett former Democratic chairman, in Newport News and Virginia Beach respectively.
This year, the GOP fielded 66 candidates, a record in a state where for decades Democrats have kept a grip on the General Assembly despite repeated losses for statewide offices.
Privately, Republican leaders had hoped to gain between two and eight seats this year, keeping up the momentum that had brought Republicans from 17 seats in 1976 to 33 in 1981.
Callahan, who easily survived a Democratic challenge in his own district, said he was pleased that at least Republicans did not lose any strength in the House of Delegates.
"We're still moving ahead, not falling behind. That was what had me worried," said Callahan. "I think it was probably the year working against us."