GOP poised to keep advantage in Va. House

Republicans appeared poised on Tuesday to maintain their robust advantage in the Virginia House of Delegates, seeming to withstand a push by Democrats to gain significant ground in the far reaches of the D.C. suburbs and other parts of the state.

But with a handful of races still very close, it remained unclear whether Democrats could gain extra committee assignments or the additional seats they need to prevent Republicans from overturning gubernatorial vetoes. At least one contest — the 86th District race between Republican incumbent Thomas Davis Rust (Fairfax) and his Democratic challenger, Jennifer Boysko — appeared that it could go to a state-funded recount because the unofficial margin was less than half a percent. With all precincts reporting, Rust held a 56-vote lead.

Rust declared victory, but Boysko’s spokesman would not concede. “We expect an automatic recount. It’s very, very close. We’re waiting for all the numbers to come in, the provisional ballots and the absentee ballots.”

Republican incumbent David I. Ramadan (R-Loudoun) also was in a very close race with Democrat John Bell in his attempt to hold on to his 87th District seat. Late Tuesday night, Bell conceded, saying, “Historically, recounts don’t change the outcome all that much.”

L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) and Democratic challenger Jeremy S. McPike were also in a tight battle that appeared to be too close to call.

Fairfax County Republican Barbara J. Comstock appeared to eke out a victory in her reelection bid over Democratic challenger Kathleen Murphy in the 34th District, who was not ready to concede. “We’re waiting for all the ballots to be counted,” she said. The district is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

And in Loudoun County’s 33rd District, Republican businessman David LaRock had a firm lead over Democratic lawyer Mary Daniel.

In an apparent upset for Democrats, Michael Futrell, a Woodbridge businessman, held a narrow lead over Republican incumbent L. Mark Dudenhefer with all precincts reporting in the 2nd District, which includes parts of Prince William and Stafford counties.

Those races were part of what both parties saw as a battle for important leverage in Richmond, where the GOP has held power in the House since 1999 and entered Tuesday’s election with 65 of the chamber’s 100 seats.

Despite the victories of Democrats Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam in the races for governor and lieutenant governor, Republican control of the House seemed poised to remain firm.

Republican dominance in the General Assembly could also be affected in the state Senate by the outcome of the race for attorney general, which also appeared close in early returns.

A victory by either Republican state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (Harrisonburg) or Democratic state Sen. Mark R. Herring (Loud­oun) would mean a special election would have to be held to find a replacement in time for the next legislative session. Currently, the state Senate is evenly split at 20 seats for each party.

The House races saw major pushes for support by each party in districts that appeared close.

Democrats were buoyed by a surge of support in recent polls for the candidates atop the party’s ticket.

In the days leading up to the election, both parties began turning more attention to the House races, especially after polls began showing McAuliffe as the likely winner over Republican Ken Cuccinelli II for governor and Northam beating Republican E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor.

McAuliffe’s campaign shifted $100,000 to the Democratic Party’s Virginia House Caucus last week, according to the Virginia Public Access Project’s Web site.

That, plus money from national Democratic groups and $150,000 from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), fueled an all-out effort to secure victories for House candidates in districts considered either on the fence or leaning Republican.

The state Republican Party, meanwhile, steered several hundred thousand dollars toward Comstock, Ramadan and other vulnerable House incumbents.

The battle in some districts turned fierce, particularly in the 33rd District, where LaRock had ousted incumbent Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun) in June’s primary.

LaRock, a staunch conservative, engaged in heated exchanges over abortion and other social issues with Daniel, a lawyer and member of the Berryville Town Council.

In the 87th District, both Ram­adan and Bell, a retired Air Force officer, emphasized fiscal responsibility and the need to address mounting traffic congestion in the fast-growing district that includes parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties.

The race was also marked by attempts from Bell to characterize Ramadan as unethical because of, among other things, a subpoena Ramadan received to appear before a federal grand jury as part of an investigation into gifts received by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).

In the evenly split 86th District, Rust has been a perpetual target for Democrats.

Boysko, a former aide to Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (Dranesville), highlighted in campaign brochures Rust’s vote to forbid Planned Parenthood from receiving state money.

She also criticized Rust on women’s health issues, including his vote to require women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion.