Virginia Democrats, Republicans battling over House control

Eileen Filler-Corn, Todd Gilbert
Posted at 10:37 AM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-03 01:59:06-04

GLEN ALLEN, Va. -- Democrats and Republicans were locked in a battle for control of the Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday, with the election results in about a dozen competitive races still too early to call.

Democrats held a 55-45 majority heading into Tuesday's election, but Republicans waged an aggressive campaign to flip up to 13 seats held by Democrats whom they consider vulnerable. The GOP needs to flip at least six seats to regain the majority the party lost in 2019.

Democratic incumbents held on to their seats in two closely watched contests and claimed victory in several other competitive races, but it was still unclear whether the party would be able to maintain its majority.

In District 72, just outside Richmond, two-term Democratic incumbent Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg fought back a challenge from Republican Christopher Holmes. Democrat Dan Helmer held onto his seat in District 40, easily defeating Republican Harold Pyon, a former employee of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with strong ties to the Korean American community in northern Virginia.

Leaders of both the Republican and Democratic House caucuses declined to comment on which party they thought would ultimately win control.

In other competitive races, first-term Democratic Del. Joshua Cole was battling Republican challenger Tara Durant in the 28th District, which includes the city of Fredericksburg and parts of Stafford County. Another close contest pitted longtime Democratic incumbent Del. Roslyn Tyler against Republican challenger Otto Wachsmann in the 75th District. Wachsmann lost the 2019 race to Tyler by just 506 votes.

In District 83, which includes parts of the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Republican challenger Tim Anderson, an attorney and gunshop owner, was leading Democratic incumbent Nancy Guy.

Republicans had controlled the House since 2000, but Democrats won back 15 GOP-held seats in 2017, helped by voter hostility toward then-President Donald Trump. In 2019, Democrats took full control of the legislature by wiping out slim Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

Republicans criticized a series of progressive policies promoted by Democrats to try to convince voters that Virginia has moved too far to the left, including the repeal of the death penalty, the legalization of marijuana, a loosening of abortion restrictions. and a series of police reforms.

In television ads, Republicans attempted to depict Democrats as radical liberals who have swung once-conservative Virginia too far to the left.

Jurisdictions throughout the state reported that turnout Tuesday, in combination with early voting, was set to exceed turnout in 2017. Statewide turnout that year approached 48%, a high number for an off-year gubernatorial election. The turnout in 2017 was in part a backlash to Trump’s 2016 election. Democrats swept all three statewide elections in 2017.

Democrats now hold a narrow 21-19 majority in the Senate, where members aren’t up for reelection until 2023.