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Democrats Make Gains In Virginia Senate, House

Virginia Democrats win three Republican state Senate seats and need one more victory in two close contests to claim a Senate majority.
/ Source: NBCWashington.com

Democrats won three Republican Senate seats Tuesday, forcing the GOP to at least share power, but awaited the outcome of two unnervingly close races that would determine whether they won outright control. In the House of Delegates, Democrats won at least two Republican seats and held a narrow lead in a Virginia Beach race with unofficial returns completed.

After a legislative campaign that was the most expensive in Virginia history, Democrats had won two Republican seats in Hampton Roads and a high-profile race in northern Virginia.

Democrat Ralph Northam, a neurosurgeon, defeated Sen. D. Nick Rerras, R-Norfolk; anti-tax Republican Tricia Stall lost to Democrat John C. Miller in a race on the Peninsula; and Democratic former Delegate J. Chapman Petersen defeated Republican Jeannemarie Devolites Davis in Fairfax County.

Democrats targeted eight GOP seats, including five incumbents, and Republicans put a bounty on just one Democrat, Sen. Charles J. Colgan of Prince William County, who led his GOP challenger.

Still in doubt were the tight Fairfax County races between Republican Sen. Kenneth Cuccinelli and Democrat Janet Oleszek and Republican Sen. Jay O'Brien and Democrat George Barker.

Democrats claimed victory in Barker's race shortly after 11 p.m., but an Associated Press vote count found the race too close to call.

"We've made history tonight and taken the state Senate," Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said at a celebration in northern Virginia.

Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, who likely would become majority leader if the Democrats take control, said he did not plan any dramatic shifts in the Senate, which has been led by moderate Republicans in recent years.

"The Senate is still going to be governed from the center. There are not going to be any radical changes," Saslaw said in an interview.

Two House members won open seats in the state Senate. Republican Delegate Robert Hurt easily won the Southside seat of retiring Republican Sen. Charles Hawkins while Democrat A. Donald McEachin brushed aside an independent for the Richmond-area seat of Sen. Benjamin Lambert, whom he defeated in the Democratic primary.

With an increase from 17 seats to 21, Democrats would rule the 40-member Senate. Win just three seats, however, and they will share power with the GOP as they did from 1996-98, the last time there was a 20-20 Senate split.

The Senate election is critical because it's the last before the General Assembly redraws Virginia's legislative and congressional lines in 2011. Redistricting allows the dominant party to minimize the number of districts in which the minority party is competitive and lock in the disparity for another decade.

While there won't be Senate elections until after redistricting, Saslaw noted that deaths or resignations could result in special elections that could change the balance of power between now and then.

"We all need to have good health," he said.

In the House, R.W. "Bobby" Mathieson beat three-term GOP Del. John J. Welch III in Virginia Beach, and in Prince William, Democrat Paul Nichols defeated Republican Faisal Gill to win an open Republican seat.

The GOP controlled 60 of the 100 House seats and 18 GOP incumbents faced Democratic challenges, while only six Democrats had Republican opponents. Also, all seven open seats contested by the major parties were previously held by Republicans.

Democrats had the advantage of popular statewide names to help their candidates in House and Senate races. Over the frantic final weekend of the campaign, Kaine, former Gov. Mark R. Warner and Sen. Jim Webb campaigned across the state for candidates in key matchups.

Asked if Va. has turned blue, Warner said, "I don't think it's red or blue or any color. ... Virginia just wants to keep moving forward.

For Kaine, winning control of the Senate and claiming enough House seats give his legislative priorities a fighting chance in the last two years of the single term he is allowed.

Republicans made the most of the emotional issue of illegal immigration, particularly in vote-rich northern Virginia suburbs such as Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Prince William gained national attention for local ordinances cracking down on burgeoning populations of undocumented immigrants.

House and Senate candidates together had raised at least $60 million as of Monday, with the final totals expected to approach $70 million for part-time legislative posts that pay $18,000 annually.

Candidates for the same seats four years ago raised only $30.8 million, and all candidates for governor in what was far the most expensive statewide in ever Virginia took in and spent $47.3 million.

In the 59th state Senate district, Democrat Edd Houck defeated Republican Chris Yakabouski.

Democrat Mary Whipple defeated Samuel Burley in the 31st District. She had 81 percent of the vote after 78 percent of precincts had reported.

Saslaw was elected in District 35. The Democrat had 65 percent of the vote over Mario Palmiotto with 65 percent of precincts reporting.

Democrats seeking to cut into the Republican majority in the House of Delegates knocked off one GOP incumbent in early election returns. R.W. "Bobby" Mathieson defeated Republican Delegate John Welch III, of Virginia Beach.

Republican G.M. "Manoli" Loupassi, a former Richmond City Council president, defeated Katherine Waddell, one of three House independents.

Republicans held two open seats. Jimmie Massie defeated Democrat Tom Herbert for the seat being vacated by Republican Delegate Jack Reid, of Henrico. Brenda Pogge beat Democrat Troy Farlow and an independent to succeed retiring Republican Delegate Melanie Rapp, of York.

In the 88th House district, Republican Mark Cole defeated Democrat Carlos Del Toro.

Joe May was declared the winner for the GOP in District 33, defeating Democrat Marty Martinez.

Republican Jeffrey Frederick has been declared the winner over Democrat Christopher Brown in the 52nd District.

Republican Tim Hugo defeated Democrat Rex Simmons in the 40th District.

Republican William Howell defeated Democrat Clyde Matthews and Craig Ennis in the 28th District with 55 percent of the vote after 63 percent of precincts reported.

Democrat Stephen Shannon defeated Republican Arthur Purves in the 35th District.

Democrat Vivian Watts defeated Laura Clifton in the 39th District.

Republican Bobby Orrock defeated Kimbra Kincheloe in the 54th District, with 74 percent of the vote after 90 percent of precincts reported.

Jackson Miller won the 50th District. With 71 percent of precincts reporting, the Republican had 62 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Democrat Jeanette Rishell.

Democrat Adam Ebbin took the 49th District with 82 percent of the vote after 68 percent of precincts reported.

David Englin was elected in District 45. With 73 percent of precincts reporting, he had 64 percent of the vote. The head of elections for Virginia said police are looking into a report of voter intimidation in Manassas. Someone called the registrar of voters to say they were intimidated outside of the Stonewall Precinct. The caller did not leave a name.

Democrats carried several advantages into the Senate elections, including three popular statewide figures who could attract coverage and campaign contributions: Kaine, former Gov. Mark R. Warner and Jim Webb, the freshman U.S. senator.

Another factor in their favor was that most of the competitive races were for the seats of GOP incumbents or senior Republican senators who are retiring.

In some key districts, however, Republicans countered with the emotional issue of illegal immigration, particularly in populous northern Virginia suburbs such as Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Prince William gained national attention for local ordinances cracking down on burgeoning populations of undocumented immigrants.

Volunteers from CASA in Virginia and Maryland demonstrated outside of polling stations in the Woodbridge area, hoping to impact the Board of Supervisors race. Many said that with the immigration issue being debated, they are concerned that legal immigrants would be deterred from voting.

"The concern is that in the climate of anti-immigrant sentiment in Prince William County the voters will be intimidated and that voters through a variety of means will not be able to exercise their right to vote," said Kerry O'Brien of CASA of Maryland.

Republicans are seeking to protect their sizable majority in the House of Delegates with attention focused on nearly a dozen closely contested races among the 100 at stake.

Turnout statewide was described as moderate to light, typical for legislative election years without any statewide contests.

In many localities where the races are hot, absentee voting was not, officials said, and that was a sign voter turnout probably would be light for Tuesday's legislative elections. Judging by absentee voting, Virginians were not wowed by the election's importance. Officials in Winchester say absentee voting was about on par with past legislative elections.

One locality bucking the trend is Chesterfield County, where voters requested double the number absentee ballots that were requested four years ago.

The Virginia chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP were teaming up to prevent voters from running into problems on Election Day. The groups established hot lines and distributed informational cards in English and Spanish describing voters' rights.

They said the decision to inform voters of their rights comes in response to experiences they have encountered in recent years. For example, voters being turned away for not having identification with them or being sent home because they are wearing buttons or T-shirts with political messages.

The voter cards were available at www.acluva.org. Voters can call the ACLU hot line at 804-644-8080. The NAACP hot line is 804-321-5678.

House and Senate candidates together had raised at least $60 million as of Monday, with the final totals expected to approach $70 million for part-time legislative posts that pay $18,000 annually.

By contrast, candidates for the same seats in 2003 raised only $30.8 million, and all candidates for governor in what was far the most expensive statewide in ever Virginia took in and spent $47.3 million.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. in Virginia. It is the final election for the seats before district lines are redrawn in 2011.

As Expected, Dixon Elected Mayor Of Baltimore

In Baltimore, Democrat Sheila Dixon has been declared the winner in the mayor's race. With 27 percent of precincts reporting, Dixon had 88 percent of the vote to 12 percent for Republican Elbert Henderson.

Voters in three of Prince George's County's largest municipalities -- Bowie, College Park and Greenbelt -- went to the polls Tuesday to choose mayors and members of city councils in nonpartisan races that hinge on development, transportation and taxes.

Susan Hoffman won the mayor's race in Rockville.

Jonathan Molinatto and Patrick Wojahn were elected to the College Park Council, First District.

The most hotly contested race is the campaign for mayor in Bowie, the county's largest city. The county's most expensive election pitted G. Frederick Robinson, a city resident since 1967 and mayor since 1998, against D. Michael Lyles, who has been on the Bowie City Council for three years. Robinson won with 76 percent of the vote.

In Gaithersburg, Jud Ashman, Cathy Drzyzgula and Ryan Spiegel were elected to the city council.

Aberdeen voters went to the polls Tuesday to elect a mayor and four members of the city council. Incumbent Mayor Fred Simmons faced two opponents -- retired state trooper Michael Bennett and 19-year-old Towson University student Nicole Berlew. Ten candidates are vying for the four council seats.

With new jobs coming to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, the city is facing questions about growth and development. Financial issues surrounding Ripken Stadium have also been on the radar screen this year.

The polls closed at 8 p.m. in Maryland.

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