Democrats Win Control of Virginia Legislature for the First Time in Decades

The Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond (Jay Paul/Reuters)

Democrats reclaimed both chambers of the Virginia state house on Tuesday night, wresting complete control from Republicans for the first time since 1994.

By Wednesday morning, Democrats had won 21 of the state’s 40 Senate seats and at least 53 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates, and were leading in two more contests. Republicans had possessed slim majorities in both chambers.

The new Democratic majorities in the Virginia State Assembly pave the way for Democratic governor Ralph Northam’s legislative agenda, which includes loosening abortion restrictions, expanding Medicaid, increasing gun control, and raising the minimum wage.

Northam was almost forced to resign in February after an old yearbook photo surfaced showing an individual wearing blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Around the same time, he managed to weather a second scandal over remarks he made in support of a state abortion bill that would have made it easier for women to obtain an abortion up to the moment of delivery.

Virginia Democrats gained 15 seats in the state house in 2017, but control of the chamber ultimately fell to Republicans as a result of a close race that was decided by drawing the name of one of the candidates from a bowl. The Democrat who lost the deciding race, Shelly Simonds, ran again this year against Republican incumbent David Yancey and won.

“If you ever wonder whether every vote counts, talk to Shelly,” Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said of the race. “I describe 2019 in Virginia as continuing and completing the work of taking back the majority.”

The months leading up to Election Day had been marked by Republican anxiety about the party’s tenuous control of the legislature.

“We are one vote, one election, and one bill away from being New York and California,” Republican state-senate candidate Todd Pillion told his conservative constituents in May.

Democrats afterwards celebrated the end of decades of Republican control.

“The era of Republican obstruction in the Commonwealth of Virginia is now over,’’ former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe said of Tuesday night’s Democratic victory. “While tonight we celebrate the history we have made, tomorrow we must begin rewarding voters with action.”

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