A week after Virginians went to the polls, state Democrats and Republicans are busily conducting post-election assessments of the outcome of the 2017 General Election.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam led the Democrats’ efforts to capture and retain the state’s top three political offices when he was elected the state’s 73rd chief executive. Justin Fairfax was elected the Lt. Governor and Mark Herring reclaimed the Attorney’s General Office.
Democrats credit their victories to voter discontent with the policies and disorganization of Trump Administration, which has the lowest public opinion rating of any presidency in modern history.
Democrats are hoping to use the same party messages during the 2018 mid-term elections for the U.S. Congress.
“You can attribute the reasons for our success to two words,” said Fifth District Democratic Senator Lionel Spruill, who represents parts of Norfolk And Chesapeake.
“We had 88 very hard working and diverse candidate and a huge turnout across the state,” said Democratic Party Vice Chair Gaylene Kanoyton.
“And the campaign chair was one Donald J. Trump. But we can’t let grass grow under our feet. We have more campaigns to come.”
While Democrats are making giddy but cautious assessment of the elections results, Republicans are conducting an autopsy on the corpse of its failed campaign.
Republicans were hoping Ed Gillespie’s campaign strategy of keeping an increasingly unpopular Donald Trump at arm’s length, but using the President’s anti-immigrant and White nationalist message would be enough to win in Virginia and later nationally.
But it failed, due in part to heavy turnout from the Democrats’ base, especially Black women who powered the vote giving the party 91 percent of their support, compared to 81 percent of Black men; 48 percent of White women; and 36 percent of White men.
The Republicans felt the voter backlash from educated and high income suburbs in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and near Richmond due in part to Gillespie’s toxic tone.
But what is making Virginia Democrats even more giddy and confident was gaining enough seats in the House of Delegates to acquire a tie or depending on recounts of several undecided contests, the majority.
For most of two decades, a Republican-controlled House and Senate have moved a conservative agenda, including recently blocking the expansion of Medicaid to allow a half million poor working class people to use the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Virginia.
Even if the Democrats should get close in seats in the House, 51-49, they could lure some Republicans to their side to gain leverage on that and other progressive legislation.
Also after the 2020 Census, the state will redraw the boundaries of its federal and state voting districts. Republicans have controlled the process the last two times and strengthened their hold on House and Senate seats. Democrats will now have a stronger voice in that process, as well.
As the state’s governor, Northam will now have more power than the previous two Democrats who sat in the state house, with more members of his party in the House and his veto pen.
Days before the election, Democrats were wary of a last minute surge of the Republican base of support, as polls signaled a narrowing. But Northam won with a 9 point margin.
Party leaders and activists admit they had no clue that Democrats would pick up 15 seats outright in the House of Delegates and two more potentially.
As of Monday Nov. 13, the Democrats has chalked up 15 seats, leaving the Republicans with a 51-49 lead – down from a 66-34 dominance.
Three undecided contests may determine who will control the House.
Registrars have until Nov. 14 to finish their final canvassing of all of the votes cast in person at the polls and the absentee and provisional ballots on election day Nov. 7.
The count of provisional ballots could affect the outcome in the 94th District, in which incumbent Republican Del. David E. Yancey, of Newport News, held a 13-vote lead over Democrat Shelly Simonds.
Libertarian Michael Bartley got 675 votes.
Democrats made a filing in court Thursday (Nov. 9) in Newport News to seek from the city’s electoral board a list of rejected absentee ballots and the reasons they were rejected. A hearing before a judge Thursday was continued Monday, (Nov. 13), according to the party.
In the race for the 28th House seat, Republican Robert M. “Bob” Thomas Jr. had an 84-vote margin over Democrat Joshua Cole. This district was owned by retiring House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford.
In that race Democrats are complaining the Registrar is refusing to count absentee ballots from military personnel picked up at the post office a day after the elections.
In the race for the 40th House District, Republican Del. Timothy D. Hugo of Fairfax regained a 115-vote advantage over Democrat Donte Tanner after appearing to lose on election day.
The small percentage of victory in these races give candidates reason to call for a recount. Once the local election results are complete, the State Board of Elections will meet on Monday, Nov. 20, to certify them, along with the final vote counts in the three statewide races Democrats swept for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Then candidates will have 10 days after the board certifies results to petition the appropriate circuit courts for recounts, as House Republicans and Democrats already are calling on their allies to raise money to help pay for recounts. Democrats have hired a Washington , D.C. law form to wage its battle in the recount wars.
With a 51-49 margin in the House, the Republicans can’t afford to lose any more ground.
A 50-50 tie places the House in a situation where there has to be a proportional increase in Democrats on House committees and the parties sharing power on all of the important committees.
Currently there are 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans on most committees, a tie on the seats would equal 11 members from each party.
So the days of Republicans’ ability to kill legislation supported by Democrats without even a hearing or a vote may be over. Further there may be co-chairs on powerful panels dealing with the budget such as the Finance Committee, or issues dealing with civil rights and criminal justice which the GOP has fought against.
Democrats may even get closer to passing laws restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time, and paid their fines more quickly.
A good example of power sharing, in theory, is that Republican S. Chris Jones of Suffolk would share leadership with Del. Luke E. Torian, D-Prince William, on the powerful Appropriations Committee. The chair serves as a conferee in negotiating the final budget with the Senate.
Four Republicans lost their seats on the Appropriations committee on election day. Further African-American Democrats in the House, who have served for many years, accrued seniority, but could not secure a chairmanships on panels could find themselves in the leadership mix, too.
Four Republican chairs lost their elections last week and two GOP delegates had announced their retirement.
Fifth District Senator Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake and Norfolk, saw the power sharing dynamic come to form in 1996, two years after he was first elected to the House.
He said the House was tied and the Clerk of the House chose Republican S. Vance Wilkins as Speaker. This time in case of a tie, the sitting House Clerk could do the same, since he was appointed by the GOP leadership.
House Majority Republican Leader M. Kirkland Cox, of Colonial Heights, who was selected as the speaker earlier this year may not have a chance to hold that position if the Democrats should prevail in the recount.
House Minority Leader, Democrat David J. Toscano, of Charlottesville, has a chance of becoming speaker if Democrats can pick up at least the two seats in the recount.
“There is no doubt the dynamic is going to change dramatically in January,” Toscano said in a jubilant, hour long conference call with more than 30 media representatives on Wednesday morning.
Spruill pointed out that with more Democrats, including Blacks and women gaining new power in the House, an African-American such as Charniele L. Herring, who in December 2012, became the first African-American to be elected chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. could be considered. Herring who was born in Santa Domingo, and represents parts of Alexandria, was first elected in 2009.
By Leonard E. Colvin