Donald Trump

Virginia Democrats Take Control of Both Chambers of General Assembly

Virginia legislative elections test anti-Trump sentiment

Virginia Democrats continued their winning streak under President Donald Trump Tuesday and took full control of the statehouse for the first time in more than two decades.

Democrats won majorities in both the state House and Senate in the marquee warmup for next year's presidential election, the third election in a row in which they have made significant gains since Trump was elected.

"I'm here to officially declare today, Nov. 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue," Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam told a crowd of supporters in Richmond.

Of the four states with legislative elections this year, Virginia was the only one where control of the statehouse was up for grabs. Republicans had slim majorities in both the state House and Senate.

National groups, particularly those aligned with Democrats, pumped huge amounts of money into the contests as a way to test-drive expensive messaging and get-out-the-vote campaigns ahead of the 2020 cycle. Gun control and clean energy groups affiliated with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent several million dollars helping Democrats.

Virginia also drew several high-profile visits from 2020 presidential hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as current Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump tried to rally Republicans via Twitter but stayed out of Virginia, a state he lost in 2016.

His election three years ago has been disastrous for Virginia Republicans, particularly in growing suburban areas. Democrats have won every statewide contest, picked up three additional congressional seats and now are set to control both the state house and the Executive Mansion for the first time since 1994.

Republicans were hoping an off-year election with no statewide candidates on the ballot would help defuse the anti-Trump energy that powered previous cycles. GOP lawmakers also were hopeful that the specter of a possible Trump impeachment would anger and motivate the Republican base.

Democrats have pledged that when they take power, they will pass an agenda that Republicans have blocked for years, including stricter gun laws, a higher minimum wage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the final state needed for possible passage of the gender equality measure.

Democrats were keenly focused on gun issues during the election, saying Republicans should be held accountable for failing to pass new restrictions after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach earlier this year.

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to use the tragedy for political gain while focusing heavily on past Democratic efforts to loosen restrictions for third-trimester abortion. The GOP also warned of higher taxes and energy prices if they lost the majority.

Tuesday's election could help cement Democratic rule for the next decade, because the winners will decide who controls the next redistricting process. Lawmakers approved a proposed constitutional amendment this year that would create a new bipartisan commission empowered to draw legislative and congressional maps, but Democrats would have to sign off on it again next year before it could be presented to voters.

Arden Griffin, a 75-year-old retired librarian who voted for Democratic candidates in competitive Richmond-area seats, said she saw her vote as a way to make a statement against Trump.

"To be blunt, he's a liar, he's a crook, he does not have the best interest of the country at heart. He's strictly out for Donald Trump," said Griffin, who added that she supports the impeachment proceedings against him.

Virginia Republicans, who have generally tried to keep Trump at arm's distance, hoped the specter of impeachment would motivate the GOP base to turn out in large numbers.

Trump supporter Cris Harris, 61, a police officer in Henrico County, said the impeachment inquiry has "liberal backing, with a news media that feeds off of it."

"If the media can talk bad about Trump, they certainly will, whether it's founded or not," Harris said.

Alise Stults, 24, a military contractor in Virginia Beach who voted for Democrats, said Trump was not a driving factor for her this election, but she knew the stakes were high in Virginia. Canvassers from four separate campaigns knocked on her door over the weekend.

"Even when I was going to work today, people on both sides were making sure to say that whoever you're voting for, this is a vital election," she said.

Here are the races we closely watched: 

Blue Wave Staying Power: We reported a lot about the blue wave in 2017, in which a number of Northern Virginia Democrats beat Republican incumbents in the House. Elizabeth Guzman (Dist. 31), Lee Carter (Dist. 50), Danica Roem (Dist. 13) and Hala Ayala (Dist. 51) are each won re-election Tuesday. Ayala faced a rematch with Rich Anderson, whom she defeated in 2017. In Loudoun County, incumbent Democrat Wendy Gooditis (Dist. 10) defeated Republican Randy Minchew, who used to represent the district.

House District 40: This was the marquee House race in Northern Virginia control. Longtime incumbent Tim Hugo (R), who has held this seat since 2002 but only barely won in 2017, lost to Rhodes scholar and Army veteran Dan Helmer (D). Hugo is the last General Assembly Republican in Fairfax. This race set a record as having the most money spent on a House race: $3 million combined.

Janet Ellis, 68, said she's a lifelong Republican who's fed up with Trump and voted Democratic down the line, but she made an exception for Hugo.

"I didn't want him to be a victim of Trump," she said. "I know the things he's done."

House District 28: In the Fredericksburg/Stafford area, Democrat Josh Cole Democratic candidate Josh Cole defeated Republican Paul Milde. Cole lost this race by fewer than 100 votes to Republican Bob Thomas in 2017. Cole, an African American minister who has worked as a legislative chief of staff, significantly out-raised Milde.

House District 66: This is not in our region, but conservative House Speaker Kirk Cox won re-election in a district that was impacted by gerrymandering decision. He defeated Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman.

House District 30: Incumbent GOP Del. Nick Freitas won his write-in campaign over Democrat Amy Ridgeway after he had his campaign failed to file paperwork on time in this red district in the Madison, Orange and Culpeper area.

Senate District 13: This is one of four Senate districts Democrats targeted in their bid to flip that chamber. It was an open seat with State Sen. Dick Black not seeking re-election. Del. John Bell (D) ran on a platform focusing on gun control. Well-known Loudoun County Supervisor Geary Higgins (R) ran ads on curbing the high cost of tolls.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors: Jeff McKay (D) succeeded the retiring Sharon Bulova, even though a state police investigation is underway into whether he violated ethics laws in the purchase of his home. The board may also elect its first Latina supervisor, in the Providence District, with Dalia Palchik.

Loudoun Board of Supervisors: Chair Phyllis Randall (D) made history in 2015 as the first African-American woman to be elected chair of a Virginia county board. She won a second term, defeating well-funded former Republican Party Chair John Whitbeck.

Prince William Board of Supervisors: Former energy consultant Ann Wheeler became the first Democratic chair since 1999. Four people ran to fill the vacancy left by conservative Corey Stewart. Republican John Gray (an accountant) is as conservative as Stewart, especially with immigration. There were two Independent candidates – Muneer Baig (founder of a cybersecurity firm) and Don Scoggins (a former real estate broker).

Commonwealth's Attorney Races: There is major change coming in Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties, where longtime prosecutors are either retiring or have been defeated in the primary.

  • Fairfax County: Steve Descano defeated independent candidate Jonathan Fahey after beating incumbent Ray Morrogh in the Democratic primary. Descano, a former tax policy federal prosecutor campaigned on a platform of criminal justice reform. His campaign was fueled by almost $500,000 in funding from wealthy Democrat George Soros. Descano promised not to prosecute simple marijuana possession cases, and said he would end cash bonds and never seek the death penalty. Fahey, a former local and federal prosecutor, said Descano lacks the experience to run the office, since he’s never tried a case in local courts. Fahey positioned himself as a moderate with support from both Democrats and Republicans.
  • Prince William: Democrat Amy Ashworth defeated Republican Mike May for retiring incumbent Paul Ebert's position after more than 50 years in this role. Ashworth pushed for reforms — including adding a public defender's office in the county, which currently does not have one. May said he wanted to modernize the office and make fighting crime his main issue.
  • Loudoun: Incumbent Jim Plowman became a judge, so Republican Nicole Wittmann recently was sworn in to fill out the term. She lost to Democrat Buta Biberaj. Biberaj has talked about increased victim assistance and more resources to tackle cybercrime. Wittman has been a prosecutor for 26 years and thinks the office is on the right track, though she wanted to expand drug and mental health court. 
  • Arlington: Incumbent Theo Stamos lost to Parisa Dehghani-Tafti (D) in the primary. Tafti is a former public defender, innocence protection lawyer and professor. She ran unopposed.
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