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Democrat who lost random drawing for Va. House seat concedes to Republican

Members of the media surround Democrat Delegate Shelly A. Simonds after she lost a drawing to Delegate David E. Yancey (R-Newport News), at the State Board of Elections in Richmon on Thursday. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND — Democrat Shelly Simonds, who lost a random drawing to settle a deadlocked state legislative race last week, conceded defeat Wednesday, ending a tumultuous election and cementing Republicans' narrow control of Virginia's House of Delegates.

Simonds tweeted her concession less than an hour before the House reconvened in the state Capitol for its 60-day session and cleared the way for her Republican opponent, Del. David Yancey (Newport News), to take his seat without protests from Democrats.

Simonds, in a telephone interview from Florida, said she chose not to seek a second recount — one to which she was entitled — because she did not expect to prevail in a dispute that captured national attention.

"I'm my usual angry, pissed-off self about the situation," Simonds said. "But we assessed all the options, and they all landed us in court. And I don't think we would win."

Simonds, 50, said she called Yancey to concede Wednesday morning and asked him to support Medicaid expansion. "He said, 'We can talk about it later,' " she recalled.

In the interview, Simonds repeated her promise to challenge Yancey in 2019, a campaign that would be her third attempt to defeat him. She said she hoped to send out her first fundraising email Wednesday.

"Next time, I'm not going to lose," she said.

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Yancey, in an interview, expressed understanding that his district includes many Simonds supporters who believe the election's outcome was tainted. But he also said, "The campaign is over, and it's time to govern."

"I hear their voice and I will do the very best I can to represent everybody in Newport News," he said.

Asked about Simonds's request that he support Medicaid expansion, Yancey declined to comment. Nor would he commit to seeking reelection and facing Simonds in a rematch. "Right now, my focus is on doing the job that I was elected to do," he said.

With Yancey taking his seat in the House, Republicans have a 51-to-49 majority in the House. After the chamber assembled at noon, newly elected House Speaker M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) called for an end to the partisan discord that defined the period since an election in which Republicans lost 15 seats.

The Yancey-Simonds contest was one of two contested Republican victories that allowed the GOP to retain control of the House. The GOP has led the House for 18 years, dominating by a 63-to-34 majority before the elections.

A handful of voters filed a lawsuit over the other disputed election, in which 147 voters in the Fredericksburg area received ballots with the wrong candidates listed. The campaign's winner, Republican Bob Thomas, defeated his opponent by 73 votes. A short time before Simonds conceded, a federal appeals court rejected the voters' request to invalidate the race, allowing Thomas to be sworn in.

Federal appeals court denies request for new election in race where ballots were mixed up

Democrats needed to reverse both the Yancey and Thomas victories to seize control of the chamber, but they could have forced Republicans into a power-sharing arrangement by picking up just one of those seats.

On Election Day, Yancey appeared to win the race by 10 votes, but a recount put Simonds ahead by one vote. The next day, a three-judge recount court ruled that a single ballot that had been discarded during the recount should be tallied for Yancey. The race was tied with each candidate having 11,608 votes.

A state election officials broke the tie last Thursday by picking Yancey's name out of a stoneware bowl, a random drawing required under Virginia law.

Since then, the state's political class waited for Simonds to decide whether to seek a second recount, a question she resolved at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday when she tweeted: "It is with great disappointment that I am conceding the election to David Yancey."

Simonds wrote the tweet at the airport in Orlando, where she was about to fly home with her two daughters after accompanying her husband, Paul, a NASA engineer, to a work conference.

"My daughters were looking over my shoulder," she said. "We were very sad."

Simonds said she plans to immediately immerse herself in the details of her next campaign, promising to focus on education changes, among other issues. "I have a lot of work to do," she said.

Simonds said her weekend in Orlando was a chance for some needed relaxation and included a trip to Universal Studios, where she experienced a more entertaining kind of drama than the one overwhelming her in recent weeks.

"I traded in a political roller coaster for a real roller coaster," she said. "It felt great."

Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.