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Random drawing gives GOP control of Virginia House of Delegates

Republican Delegate David Yancey declared winner in race tied after disputed recount

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Republicans have retained control of the Virginia House of Delegates after a random drawing to settle a race in Newport News that remained tied after a disputed recount.

Va. Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News

Republican Delegate David Yancey will get to keep his seat after his name was drawn from a bowl by James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections, as Yancey’s Democratic challenger, Shelly Simonds, looked on.

With Yancey’s win, Republicans will hold 51 seats in the House of Delegates, to 49 for Democrats, although Democrats have gone to federal court to overturn another race in which their candidate lost narrowly in a recount.

Speaking to reporters after the January 4 drawing, Simonds refused to concede and said “all options are on the table,” including possible legal action to contest the outcome in District 94.

Yancey, who didn’t attend the drawing, issued a statement saluting Simonds on running a “great campaign.”

“The election is behind us, the outcome is clear, and my responsibility now is to begin the work I was re-elected to do,” he said.

Despite falling short of control, Democrats made an astonishing breakthrough in the November vote in Virginia, nearly overturning a 66-34 Republican House majority by flipping 15 seats and taking out 12 GOP incumbents, including many veteran lawmakers in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Democrats also carried all three statewide races, including a win by Governor-elect Ralph Northam, and only trail Republicans by one vote in the Senate, where the GOP holds a 21-19 majority. Northam takes office January 13.

The drawing to settle the contest in District 94 was the latest bizarre twist in the seesaw battle between Yancey and Simonds that has roiled Virginia politics for more than eight weeks.

Shelly Simonds

After the initial results were reported, Yancey held a 10-vote lead. Then, a December 19 recount overturned Yancey’s margin and showed Simonds ahead by one vote. But when a panel of judges met to certify the results the next day, they decided to count a ballot for Yancey in which the bubbles for both candidates had been filled in but the bubble for Simonds was crossed off.

With that ballot counted, Simond’s single vote lead became a tie, which, under Virginia law, had to be settled by drawing lots.

Simonds asked the judges who counted the disputed ballot to reconsider, but they refused, saying they had complied with state law in determining the intention of the voter who filled out the ballot, who had voted for the Republican candidates in all of the other races.

The unusual circumstances of the drawing drew a large crowd to the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, despite a snow storm. Slips of paper with the names of both candidates were put inside film canisters and then placed in a large bowl and mixed, with Alcorn selecting the winner.

Democrats, GOP will likely tie for control of Virginia House of Delegates

Democrat wins recount by a single vote to give party parity

RICHMOND (CFP) — By the margin of a single vote in a single race, Virginia Democrats are poised to do what was unthinkable before November’s House of Delegates election — gain enough seats to share control with Republicans come January.

Virginia Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds

A December 19 recount in District 94 in Newport News gave Democrat Shelly Simonds a one-vote victory over Republican Delegate David Yancey, out of nearly 24,000 votes cast. Before the recount, Yancy had a 10-vote lead.

Simonds’s win means Democrats and Republicans both have 49 seats in the 100-seat chamber, with recounts pending in two other races. The Democrat has a 336-vote lead in one of those races, while the Republican leads by 82 votes in the other, making a 50-50 tie the most likely scenario.

Heading into the November election, Republicans held a commanding 66-34 lead in the House of Delegates. But Democrats, riding a surge of suburban support, flipped 16 seats and took out 13 Republican incumbents to end 18 years of GOP control.

While the recount result in District 94 still has to be certified by a judicial panel, GOP House leaders issued a statement conceding both Simonds’s victory and their loss of control.

“As we have said for the last six weeks, we are committed to leading and governing alongside our colleagues,” the GOP leaders said. “We stand ready to establish a bipartisan framework under which the House can operate efficiently and effectively over the next two years.”

Governor-elect Ralph Northam took to Twitter to congratulate Simonds, observing that her one-vote win proves “(e)very vote matters.”

Democrats have filed a federal lawsuit seeking a new election in District 28 in Fredericksburg, where the GOP candidate has an 82-vote lead pending a recount. If successful, Democrats would have a shot at winning an outright majority in the election rerun.

Republicans hold a narrow 21-19 lead in the Virginia Senate. Democrats carried all three statewide posts in November, led by Northam’s 9-point win in the governor’s race.

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.

Democrats roll in state elections in Virginia

Northam elected governor; Democrats sweep statewide races and make big gains in legislature

♦By Rich Shumate,

RICHMOND (CFP) — In a huge night for Democrats, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam easily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie to claim Virginia’s governorship.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

Democrats also won two other statewide offices, and the GOP lost its once-comfortable majority in the lower house of the state legislature, a stunning feat that included election of the nation’s first-ever transgender legislator.

Northam’s 54-45 percent victory over Gillespie in the November 7 vote was nearly twice as large as Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory over Donald Trump in 2016 and was built on 20-point victories in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and Richmond.

Holding the governorship in Virginia is a boon for Democrats frustrated by a string of heartbreaking defeats in special and off-year elections since Trump took the White House. The result, however, was a hold, not a takeaway, and it came in the lone Southern state Clinton carried.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Fairfax, Northam offered a thinly veiled rebuke to the president’s take-no-prisoners style of politics.

“It was said that the eyes of the nation are on the commonwealth,” Northam said. “Today, Virginians have answered and have spoken. Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.”

After Northam was declared the winner, Trump, visiting South Korea, sent a tweet taking issue with Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from the president: “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”

The specter of Trump hovered over the governor’s race. Gillespie did not invite the president to cross the Potomac to campaign for him, angering some in his party’s pro-Trump base, but Northam still tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.

Ed Gillespie

In his concession speech, Gillespie thanked his campaign workers and supporters but did not mention the president.

“I felt called to serve. I hope I’ll discern what (God’s) calling is for me next,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie’s loss is his second statewide defeat in four years. In 2014, he challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner, coming to within 18,000 votes of beating him.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor from the D.C. suburbs, defeated Republican State Senator Jill Vogel. Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring also won his re-election race over Republican John Adams.

Perhaps the most shocking result of the night came in the races for the House of Delegates, the lower house of Virginia’s legislature. Republicans entered election day holding a 66-34 majority; Democrats ousted at least 11 incumbents and picked up three open seats that the GOP had held.

With five races still too close to call, Democrats had 48 seats and Republicans 47. Of the five races left outstanding, Republicans were ahead in three and Democrats in two. If those results hold, the chamber would be evenly divided, 50-50.

In four of the five House races still to be decided, the leads are less than 125 votes, making recounts likely.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Danica Roem

Among the winners was Danica Roem, a transgender woman who won a seat in Prince William County by defeating veteran 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.

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 gender identity.

Northam’s win in the South’s lone off-year governor’s election gives Democrats three of the region’s 14 governorships, with Northam joining Louisiana Governor Jon Bell Edwards and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. The incumbent Democrat in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe, was barred by state law from seeking re-election.

Northam, 58, comes to the governorship after 10 years in elected office, first as a state senator and then lieutenant governor.  A former U.S. Army doctor, he has practiced pediatric neurology at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992.

With his win, Democrats have now won three of the last four governor’s races in Virginia, a once solidly Republican state that has trended Democratic in recent years, primarily due to an influx of new voters into the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Voters in Virginia set to decide governor’s race

Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam battle to lead the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried

♦By Rich Shumate,

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginians decide Tuesday whether to raise their Democratic lieutenant governor to the state’s top job or turn the reins over to a senior operative from George W. Bush’s White House.

The lone off-year governor’s race in the South pits Ed Gillespie, a Bush aide and former head of the Republican National Committee, against Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, a pediatrician who has spent the past decade in state politics.

In addition to the marquee governor’s race, statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general are on the ballot, and energized Democrats are trying to flip a slew of state House seats to gain bragging rights heading into the 2018 midterms.

Polls across the commonwealth open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

Of seven non-partisan public polls conducted since October 29 in the governor’s race, six showed results within the margin of error, making the results statistically insignificant. Just one poll, from Quinnipiac University, showed Northam with a lead of at least 1.2 percent outside the margin of error.

However, that Quinniapiac poll showed Gillespie had made up substantial ground against Northam in the final week of the campaign, particularly among independents, among whom the difference between the candidates was statistically insignificant.

Conspicuously absent from the race — President Donald Trump, who was never invited to cross the Potomac to campaign with Gillespie, although Vice President Mike Pence did make an appearance on his behalf. Trump did, however, endorse Gillespie on Twitter.

Ed Gillespie

Virginia was the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, due in part to her stronger-than-usual showing the Republican-leaning Washington, D.C. suburbs in the northern part of the state. So the Gillespie campaign had to thread a difficult needle of not galvanizing anti-Trump voters by campaigning with the president, while at the same time not antagonizing ardent Trump supporters in more conservative parts of the state.

Indeed, the potency of the Trump brand among the Republican base nearly took Gillespie down in June when, despite being a prohibitive favorite, he almost lost the party’s primary to Corey Stewart, Trump’s one-time state campaign manager.

Stewart, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, told Politico that Trump supporters were “bewildered” and “offended” by Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from Trump, predicting that it would hurt Gillespie by discouraging the president’s supporters from turning out.

Northam, in turn, has tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, running a TV ad during the final weekend of the campaign accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.

Northam, 58, joined the U.S. Army to complete his medical training after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute and has worked as a pediatric neurologist at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992. He has admitted to voting for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 before he became active in state politics, saying that he had been “underinformed” at the time.

In 2007, he was elected as a Democrat to the Virginia Senate, representing a district that included parts of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. In 2013, he became lieutenant governor, running alongside incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe, who, under state law, can’t run for a second consecutive term.

Northam was challenged in the primary by former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who tried to counter Northam’s establishment support by mobilizing Bernie Sanders supporters. In the end, Northam won by 12 points, though he has continued to face criticism from his left flank during the campaign for supporting two controversial gas pipeline projects and opposing the establishment of sanctuary cities in Virginia.

After working as Bush’s communications director in the 2000 campaign, Gillespie, 56, started a lobbying firm in Washington and was elected chairman of the RNC in 2003. He went back to the White House in 2007 as a counselor to the president and served until the end of Bush’s second term in 2009.

In 2014, Gillespie challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner. Though Warner’s seat was considered safe, Gillespie came within 18,000 votes of beating him, in what would have been the biggest upset of the 2014 campaign.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican State Senator Jill Vogel, from Fauquier County west of Washington, is facing Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor who lives in surburban Fairfax.

A controversy erupted in the closing days of the campaign when Northam’s campaign dropped Fairfax, who is African-American, from a direct mail piece sent to voters because of his opposition to the two pipeline projects Northam supports.

Critics called his exclusion racist, a charge that Northam’s camp denied. But the flap could have consequences for a race in which Northam will need strong African-American support to win.

In the race for attorney general, the incumbent Democrat, Mark Herring, is being challenged by Republican John Adams, a Richmond lawyer who once clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In addition to the three statewide races, 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the lower house of the legislature, are up for grabs. Despite Virginia’s status as a swing state in presidential politics, Republicans currently hold 66 seats, to just 34 for Democrats.

However, Democrats are contesting 88 of those seats in 2017, including challenges in 17 Republican-held seats that Clinton carried in 2016. So the results in Virginia are likely to be viewed as a bellweather for what might happen in 2018, particularly if Democrats make gains in suburban districts near Washington and Richmond.

State Senate seats are not up in Virginia this year; Republicans control the Senate, 21 to 19.

Republican Corey Stewart promises “vicious, ruthless” campaign to unseat U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Stewart enters race just a month after losing race for governor

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

WOODBRIDGE, Virginia (CFP) — Just a month after narrowly losing a Republican primary for Virginia governor, Corey Stewart started a new race against U.S. Senator Tim Kaine with an unapologetic vow to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” he can to unseat the Democratic incumbent.

GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart

“I’m going to go after him very, very hard,” said Stewart, who gained national prominence while serving as President Trump’s Virginia state chairman during the 2016 presidential campaign. “I think that Republicans have been playing by the Marquess of Queensberry rules for too long, and Democrats have been fighting a UFC fight.”

In his opening campaign salvo at his home in suburban Washington, D.C. on July 13, Stewart also made it clear that he would wrap himself in the Trump mantle in the Senate race, as he did in his unsuccessful race for governor.

“Tim Kaine is doing everything in his power to stop the president of the United States from making the economy great again, from bringing back jobs, from reforming health care and from making America great again,” he said, accusing Kaine of having a “blind hatred” for Trump that makes him “so focused on taking down the president of the United States that he is ignoring the true needs of Virginians and other Americans.”

However, Stewart didn’t stop with attacking Democrats. He began his announcement by saying how “disgusted” he had been by the 1989 inaugural address of President George H.W. Bush, a pillar of the GOP establishment.

“I was disgusted at the phrase kinder, gentler nation,” he said. “I knew right then that it was the end of the Reagan revolution.”

Stewart, 48, has been chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors since 2006. He was Trump’s state chairman in Virginia until a month before the 2016 election, when he was sacked after organizing a protest outside of Republican National Committee headquarters demanding that the GOP hierarchy not abandon Trump in the wake of the release of an audiotape in which Trump made lewd sexual comments.

In the June 13 GOP gubernatorial primary, Stewart nearly defeated former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, a one-time aide to President George W. Bush who had been seen as a presumptive favorite. Stewart said his surprisingly strong showing in that race, which he lost by only 4,500 votes, was part of the reason he decided to set his sights on unseating Kaine.

In the governor’s race, Stewart ran as an anti-establishment candidate and vowed to resist efforts to remove monuments honoring the Confederacy. He is not, however, a native Southerner, having been born in Minnesota.

Running as a Trump champion could be problematic in Virginia, which was the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

Kaine — Clinton’s vice presidential running mate — also has a venerable political pedigree in the Old Dominion, having served as governor and lieutenant governor before being elected to the Senate in 2012. And no Republican has won a Senate race in the commonwealth since 2002.

Stewart’s vow of viciousness at the starting line drew a rebuke from Susan Swecker, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, who called him “more extreme than Donald Trump.”

“Corey has completely ignored the needs of families in Prince William County to instead spend his time name calling, bashing immigrants and re-litigating the Civil War,” she said in a statement. “When he rarely turns his attention to the county he was elected to represent, he calls his colleagues ‘slimeballs’ and pushes an anti-immigrant, backwards agenda that has left working families behind.”

“The last thing Virginians need in the Senate is a rubber stamp for President Trump,” she said.

And before he gets to Kaine, Stewart will likely have to face down a primary challenge. Among the Republicans considering the race is Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Fiorina ran for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010 but later relocated to Virginia, where she had lived earlier in her business career.

Democrat Northam, Republican Gillespie will face off in Virginia governor’s race

Northam wins easily among Democrats; Gillespie barely edges out Trump-aligned candidate

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

FAIRFAX, Virginia (CFP) — Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam easily won the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor, brushing aside an anti-establishment challenge from former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello.

But on the Republican side, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie could only squeak out a narrow win over Corey Stewart, Donald Trump’s one-time Virginia campaign director, in a race that turned out to be much closer than pre-election polls had forecast.

The results of the June 13 primary now set up what is likely to be an expensive and hard-fought race in the fall for the South’s only open governorship.

Among Democrats, North won 55 percent, to 45 percent for Perriello. On the Republican side, Gillespie was at 44 percent, just ahead of  Stewart, chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, at 43 percent. State Senator Frank Wagner from Virginia Beach brought up the rear at 14 percent.

Unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections put Gillespie’s margin over Stewart at just 4,200 votes out of nearly 366,000 votes cast. The margin would have to be within 1 percent of the total votes cast — 3,660 — in order to trigger a recount under state law.

Because Virginia does not have primary runoffs, Gillespie only had to win a plurality to advance to the general election.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

Northam, a pediatric neurologist from Norfolk who has spent a decade in state politics, had the backing of most of Virginia’s Democratic political establishment and appeared to be cruising to an easy nomination until Perriello jumped into the race in January.

Perriello’s campaign was endorsed by 2016 presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with a slew of former officials from Barack Obama’s administration, in which Perriello served after losing his House seat in 2010.

While Obama did not offer an endorsement, Perriello frequently reminded voters of his connection to the former president. But in the end, Perriello’s insurgent passion could not overcome Northam’s organizational and fundraising advantages.

Ed Gillespie

The Republican race also featured an outsider-versus-insider narrative, with Stewart wrapping himself in the mantle of Trump and vowing to “take back Virginia from the establishment” — a not-so-veiled shot at Gillespie, who served as a White House aide under President George W. Bush before leading the RNC.

One curious feature of the campaign was the decision by Stewart — an native of Minnesota — to publicly decry efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces, which have sparked controversy in Charlottesville and other cities in the South.

The governor’s race in the Old Dominion is one of only two being held this year; the other is in New Jersey. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe is barred from seeking re-election.

Once reliably Republican, Virginia is the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, and it has now gone to the GOP in three successive presidential elections.

Three of the commonwealth’s last four governors have been Democrats, and it is is among just three of the 14 Southern states with a Democratic chief executive, the others being West Virginia and Louisiana.

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