In some editions yesterday, a photo caption accompanying an article on the Virginia elections misidentified the people pictured. They were Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), former governor George Allen (R) and Allen's wife, Susan. (Published 11/04/1999)
Virginia Republicans won a historic victory in yesterday's state legislative elections, capturing complete control of the General Assembly after more than a century of Democratic rule.
For Gov. James S. Gilmore III, the election of a GOP majority in the House of Delegates as well as the Senate marked the end of a painstaking personal and political quest that put his prestige on the line and sent campaign fund-raising totals soaring to record highs.
Although Republicans did not win as many seats as they had hoped for, the party secured a working majority of 52 seats in the 100-member House of Delegates and lost no ground in the 21-seat majority it already enjoyed in the 40-member Senate. Since last year, the Republicans have held all three of the top statewide offices.
The governor, who had insisted throughout the campaign that the election was not a referendum on his two-year-old administration, was jubilant as he spoke to hundreds of cheering supporters last night in Richmond: "Free at last, free at last, free at long last! Democracy has finally come to the Commonwealth!"
Gilmore called the results a "victory for conservatism" and said "liberalism is a washed-up relic of the past."
"Virginia is a Republican state," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Northern Virginia Republican who along with Gilmore raised more than $4 million for GOP candidates. "Republicans are now going to be held accountable for what happens."
Although legislative candidates from both parties had focused on issues that included transportation, education and crime, Gilmore did not advance any broad new agenda for the campaign. Having won complete control of Virginia government, Republicans may be emboldened to pursue greater public school choice and deeper tax cuts to build on the promised repeal of the state tax on cars that propelled Gilmore to the governorship in 1997.
In a year with few major elections nationwide, both political parties paid attention to the Virginia contests. Last night, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson said the election completed "a total realignment" of Virginia to the GOP and predicted that the gains would carry forward to Republicans nationally and to former governor George Allen's challenge to Sen. Charles S. Robb (D) in 2000.
"This historic win in Virginia is a referendum on the Gilmore administration of cutting taxes for the people of Virginia and getting them better state services," Nicholson said. "This is a referendum on the Clinton-Gore administration . . . and it's also a great bellwether for George Allen in his Senate race in Virginia next year."
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jenny Backus dismissed drawing any conclusions from a "shift of two or three seats."
"Either way the race goes, it will be very small majorities on both sides," Backus said. "Obviously the issues are on our side, even though we were, as usual, outspent by the Republican Party."
Robb, a former governor, said a heavy-handed Gilmore team could "create a backlash that would have people yearning for the Democrats.
"They have to reach out," Robb said. "It's the only way they can govern effectively."
The outcome left Republican legislators from Northern Virginia in a powerful position. Delegates from the region already hold senior positions on key committees governing education and transportation policy, and that clout may be enhanced if GOP lawmakers continue to rise in seniority. Republicans for the first time will control the redrawing of legislative and congressional boundaries after the 2000 Census, which is likely to enhance the delegation from the fast-growing Washington suburbs.
Most of the area's senators, five Democrats and one Republican, handily won reelection; Del. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D) moved on to the Senate to fill a seat vacated by a Democrat in Fairfax County.
Also in Fairfax, Sen. Jane H. Woods (R), a two-term incumbent and committee chairman, lost the fight of her political life to Leslie L. Byrne (D), a former state delegate and member of Congress. A recount is likely because of the close margin.
In the race for Puller's House seat, Kristen J. Amundson (D) defeated Scott T. Klein (R). Del. Gladys B. Keating (D), an 11-term incumbent and committee chairman, fell to Republican Thomas M. Bolvin, making his third try.
Gilmore won his GOP majority by exploiting the electoral opportunities available to him; for instance, in running up his House score, he captured seats left vacant by Democrats, including one in Hampton and another in the Culpeper area.
However, on the Senate side, the governor was less successful in advancing dramatically. In races reporting nearly complete returns, Democratic incumbents in Fredericksburg, the Roanoke area and Southside held their own against candidates who were part of Gilmore's district-by-district battle.
Overall, though, the Virginia GOP continued a steady march to power that dates to the 1970s. Republicans have controlled the governorship since 1994, and the party went into yesterday's election with a 21 to 19 majority over the Democrats in the Senate.
In the House, Democrats had 50 of the 100 seats, but an independent usually voted with the 49 Republicans, forcing a power-sharing arrangement that seems doomed with this election; a switch by the independent would only increase the GOP's margin.
Many of the contests around the Beltway centered on long-standing suburban concerns about easing traffic congestion, improving schools, deterring crime and enduring differences between the parties.
Democratic voters often said they were voting for particular candidates, rather than the party. "I don't vote a party ticket necessarily," said lawyer Charles Kinney, 47. He said he opted for Democratic candidates Puller and Amundson because they "have proven themselves in previous offices" as a state delegate and Fairfax School Board member, respectively.
"I know Toddy. She works hard," he said.
Mahadev Rathnam, 71, an education professor at George Washington University, singled out Byrne for praise on issues important to her. As a congresswoman and a candidate, "she was very effective on education and gun control," he said.
After Democratic polling suggested that the gun-control issue is particularly powerful among suburban voters this year, Democrats sought an eleventh-hour edge by pledging to fight for tougher restrictions on weapons, particularly in the vicinity of schools.
Jeff Snyder, 27, a computer programmer, said he voted against Byrne expressly on the gun control issue. "I'm an NRA voter," Snyder said.
Added Robert Campopiano, 60, a Baileys Crossroads retiree: "Gun control just makes the politicians feel good. More kids die in traffic accidents."
Gilmore tried to execute an artful dance in which he devoted much of his time to campaigning and fund-raising for a Republican legislative majority without turning the vote into a referendum on his two years in office. Allen also had been on the verge of winning a Republican majority at the middle point of his term in 1995. But his confrontational style with Democrats and his conservative social agenda were too much for the state's moderate suburban voters.
The GOP found itself in an unusually good position for this election. In a strong economy that generally favors incumbents, the Republicans had slightly more of them seeking reelection than the Democrats. And 26 GOP delegates, five in Northern Virginia, had a free ride because the Democrats did not put up an opposition candidate. In the Senate, 14 Republicans were similarly guaranteed reelection, including two from the Washington suburbs.
After years of scraping for campaign money, Republicans have dominated in campaign fund-raising this year. Gilmore led the way with a zealous effort that generated more than $3 million. National GOP committees poured more than $1.2 million into Virginia races, compared with $450,000 for Democrats.
State GOP leaders from Gilmore on down said the Old Dominion was riding a tide of states whose governorships, legislatures and local boards are shifting ever so gradually toward the Republicans.
"You break into different levels one at a time," said Ed Matricardi, political director of the state party. "Now we believe we're breaking into the statehouse. The courthouse will be the last bastion."
Democrats, the outsiders for a change in state government, spent the year casting about for an issue that would energize voters.
Some strategies that looked promising appeared less decisive by the fall. During the summer, Democrats seized on the governor's apparent reluctance to devote much more money to solving Northern Virginia's traffic problems. But at the end of August, Gilmore offered to spend several billion dollars to ease traffic congestion statewide.
CAPTION: Katherine K. Hanley (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Marcus Simon are happy about election results they see on a computer screen.
CAPTION: Republicans cheer at results during a Springfield rally. The GOP captured control of the General Assembly after more than a century of Democratic rule.