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Earthquake in Virginia: Democrats overturn huge GOP majority in House of Delegates

Results show U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock faces tough sledding to keep her seat in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Heading into the November 7 election, Republicans enjoyed a comfortable majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, just one seat short of the two-thirds majority necessary to override the vetoes of a Democratic governor.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia

But after a catastrophic showing in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, they may now end up sharing power in the legislature’s lower house with Democrats. And those results spell trouble ahead for Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, who will have to defend her seat in 2018 in the same suburban areas where Democrats rolled.

With three races still too close to call, Democrats are assured of winning at least 49 seats in the House, to 48 for Republicans. Republican candidates lead in all of the three outstanding races, but the margin in all three is small enough to trigger a recount; in one district, the GOP margin is a mere 13 votes.

If all of the races fall to the GOP, Republicans would keep control of the chamber, 51-49. But if just one flips back to the Democrats, the split will be 50-50, and neither party will have control.

State Senate races were not on the ballot; Republicans control that chamber 21 to 19.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Danica Roem

History was also made when Danica Roem, a transgender woman, won a seat in Prince William County by defeating GOP Delegate Bob Marshall, a 14-term social conservative who had described himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe” and insisted on referring to Roem with male pronouns during the campaign.

When Roem takes office, she will be the the first transgender person in the United States to be elected and serve in a state legislature while openly acknowledging her transgender identification.

Democrats made a concerted push to cut into the 66-34 majority that Republicans held before the election, contesting 88 of the 100 seats and raising copious amounts of money, including more than $800,000 in four races. But the swing of at least 15 seats was beyond their wildest expectations.

Democratic challengers took down 12 Republican incumbents, with two more in danger in the races still too close to call. Democrats also picked up three open seats that Republicans had held, with one more open GOP seat still to be called.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Chris Hurst

Most of the carnage was in the D.C. suburbs, where seven incumbents fell, including four in Prince William County. But incumbents also lost in suburban Richmond, the Hampton Roads area, and even in a rural district near Blacksburg won by Democrat Chris Hurst, whose girlfriend, Roanoke TV reporter Alison Parker, was gunned down on live TV in 2015.

Hurst raised more than $1.1 million, a staggering summing in a constituency with just 80,000 people. And despite running in a rural Southern district, he also advocated for treating gun violence as a “public health crisis.”

Democratic Delegate candidates were helped by the top of the ticket: Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam rolled up margins of 20 to 30 points in the northern Virginia suburbs on his way to winning the governorship over Republican Ed Gillespie, and Democratic candidates also took statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The results in Virginia were being widely interpreted as a sign that Democrats are reaping the rewards of anger toward President Trump and congressional Republicans, particularly in suburban areas filled with upscale, college-educated voters.

Even before the November 7 election, Comstock was considered to among the most vulnerable Republicans in the U.S. House because Hillary Clinton won her 10th District in 2016 by 10 points, en route to carrying the Old Dominion, the lone Southern state in Clinton’s column.

The district  stretches from Fairfax and Manassas west to the West Virginia border. However, its major population centers are in Loudon, Prince William and Fairfax counties — all areas where Northam ran up big numbers and GOP delegates fell by the wayside.

Comstock has already drawn 11 Democratic challengers. The biggest name in the pack is State Senator Jennifer Wexton from Leesburg.

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