Democrats make significant gains in Virginia legislature; control of House in play

 In U.S.

Karina Smith holds her son Kyler Smith, 2, as she fills out her ballot at a polling place Tuesday in Alexandria, Va. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The Democratic wave in Virginia on Tuesday wiped out the Republican majority in the state House of Delegates, throwing control of the chamber in play for the first time since 2000 and putting Republicans in blue-tinged districts across the country on alert for next year’s elections.

Democrats snared at least 15 seats in an upset that stunned members of both parties and arrived with national implications.

Unofficial returns showed Democrats unseating at least a dozen Republicans and flipping three seats that had been occupied by GOP incumbents who did not seek reelection. Four other races were so close that they qualify for a recount, and the outcome will determine control of the chamber. The results marked the most sweeping shift in control of the legislature since Reconstruction.

Republicans, who have controlled the chamber since 2000, went into Tuesday holding 66 of 100 seats. Democrats fielded the most candidates in recent memory, including a record number of women.

Control of the chamber may not be determined for days as provisional ballots are counted in narrow races.

Democrats need to hold one seat where they are narrowly leading to ensure a 50-50 split where power sharing would be necessary, and to pick up an additional seat in a race eligible for a recount to take full control of the chamber.

Democrat Ralph Northam won the Virginia governor’s race over Republican Ed Gillespie on Nov. 7. Here are some other takeaways from the state’s election. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

The election signaled a major shift in the gender of a body long dominated by men: Of the 15 seats Democrats flipped, all were held by men and 11 were won by women. Several of those women made history.

One became Virginia’s first openly transgender person to win elective office, unseating an opponent of LGBT rights. Another became the first open lesbian elected to the House of Delegates, another the first Asian American woman and two, both from diverse Prince William County, are set to be the first Latinas elected to the General Assembly.

“This is an unbelievable night,” said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) in an interview an hour after polls closed. “There were districts we didn’t think we had much of a shot in.”

Democrats benefited from gubernatorial contender Ralph Northam’s coattails: He won by nine percentage points.

“Obviously, tonight was a difficult night, and the outcome is not what anyone expected,” said Matt Moran, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus. “We also want to thank our colleagues and fellow Republican candidates who ran principled campaigns based on positive ideas in a difficult political environment. Our team is closely monitoring the canvasses that will take place tomorrow as we await the official results.”

Although House races are normally seen as the sleepy backwater to the gubernatorial contest, they generated a surge of interest this year from activists energized by President Trump’s election and new groups that see the legislative contests as an opportunity to test strategies and technologies ahead of next year’s elections.

How Northam gained in a more polarized Virginia

Strategists said the results suggest trouble for Republicans.

“This is a tidal wave,” said David Wasserman, an analyst who tracks U.S. House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “It’s hard to look at tonight’s results and to conclude anything other than that Democrats are the current favorite for control of the House in 2018.”

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