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Voters pick Bagby, a Democrat, for Va. Senate seat vacated by McClellan

Virginia Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico) on Tuesday was projected to defeat Republican Stephen Imholt for a seat in the state Senate. That seat came open after Democrat Jennifer McClellan was elected to Congress. (Steve Helber/AP)
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RICHMOND — Democrat Lamont Bagby was projected to defeat Republican Stephen Imholt in a special election Tuesday for the Richmond-based state Senate seat vacated by Jennifer McClellan (D), who was elected to Congress last month.

Bagby’s projected victory, declared shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m., ensures Democrats will maintain their 22-18 edge in the state Senate to offset Republican control of the House of Delegates.

Bagby wasted no time claiming the win, tweeting before 7:30 p.m. that “I can’t wait to get to work as your new State Senator!”

In a news release from his campaign soon after, Bagby pledged to “do great things for Virginia families — from lowering costs for hardworking Virginians and protecting workers’ rights, to ensuring more accessible housing and fortifying Democrats’ brick wall against Republican attacks on reproductive rights, voting rights and public education.”

Imholt, reached by telephone, said the compressed time frame of the race — about four weeks from start to finish — made Bagby’s better name recognition an insurmountable advantage. With incomplete returns showing Bagby with about 89 percent of the vote, Imholt said he had not made an official concession call to his opponent.

“When you get clobbered this bad, they don’t actually expect you to call,” Imholt said, adding that “the voters should always have a choice, and for that I have no regrets.”

The General Assembly returns to Richmond on April 12 to take up vetoes and amendments proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), and Democrats’ comfortable margin in the state Senate allows them substantial control over his agenda.

In this year’s regular legislative session, which wrapped up at the end of February, House Republicans opted not to take up Youngkin’s proposal for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks — with exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother — because Senate Democrats vowed to block it. If Democrats’ margin had shrunk, one or two defections might have enabled Youngkin to revive his priorities in the veto session.

Bagby’s projected win also does little to alter the dynamics of a stalemate over the state budget, with House and Senate negotiators at odds over Youngkin’s proposals for $1 billion in tax cuts on top of the $4 billion in cuts passed last year.

Va. General Assembly ends session with no budget deal, leaving money unspent

Bagby (D-Henrico) has served in the House of Delegates since 2015 and is chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. He initially challenged McClellan in the congressional primary race before stepping aside and giving her his support.

The 4th District congressional seat came open when Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D) died in November, shortly after winning reelection. McClellan won that seat in February by a wide margin, becoming the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.

Bagby, in turn, easily defeated two other Democrats in a primary contest for the state Senate seat that McClellan vacated March 7.

Bagby wins primary for McClellan's Virginia Senate seat, will face GOP's Imholt

Imholt, 70, has won elections to a school board and a library board in Illinois. After moving to Virginia, he ran as an independent in 2015 against McClellan for the seat she then held in the House of Delegates. She won by a wide margin in the deep-blue district.

In the Senate contest, Bagby reported raising about $212,000 as of March 16; Imholt reported $580, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Imholt said he wound up raising a total of $1,100 — and noted with a laugh that “it’s gonna be close, but I think I still may have gotten more votes than I spent dollars” in the low-turnout race.

Bagby’s projected victory will secure the Senate seat for a few months. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot this fall under newly drawn districts.

Bagby has already filed to run again in a new, overlapping district. The primary for that race is set for June 20.