Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, right, talks with Republican presidential… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)
Republicans rejoiced Wednesday as they appeared poised to control both the governorship and the state Legislature in Virginia, though the party’s victories in Tuesday’s election fell short of earlier hopes.
In the House of Delegates, GOP candidates wrested at least six seats from Democratic control, expanding their advantage in that chamber to a two-thirds majority. And despite the looming possibility of a recount in at least one close race, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell declared victory in the party’s quest to take control of the state Senate.
McDonnell’s successful campaign for the governorship in 2009 marked the beginning of the GOP’s effort to regain its footing in Virginia after Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson to carry the state. McDonnell worked furiously to help elect fellow Republicans this year, raising more than $5 million for the races, according to the Washington Post.
“In politics, change can come quickly,” McDonnell wrote in a statement posted Wednesday morning to RedState.com. “In our case, quickly doesn’t begin to do this turnaround justice.”
The GOP gains in the House of Delegates give the party the largest majority it has ever held in the chamber, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“It’s so large, it will last for decades,” he said.
In the Senate, Democrats had controlled 22 of the 40 seats. As of Wednesday afternoon, they had lost at least one seat and trailed by 86 votes in another race, where the final outcome is likely to be delayed by a recount. A 20-20 split would leave the tiebreaking vote to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
Still, the Republican victory was not as drastic as the party had hoped.
In late October, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney paid a visit to the party’s Fairfax County headquarters to gin up support in the traditionally liberal territory of northern Virginia.
As he introduced Romney, McDonnell told the crowd that he saw Tuesday’s elections as “the first salvo in next year’s campaign,” and that he was hoping to win 24 Senate seats.
Noting that Fairfax County was Obama’s last campaign stop before the 2008 election, Romney told the crowd: “Now we’re going to send him a message from that last place he campaigned that we’re taking back the White House, we’re taking back the statehouse -- well, the Legislature here in Virginia -- and making sure that the people of this country understand it’s starting right here in Fairfax County.”
Republicans seriously contested at least two of the county’s Senate seats but came up short on both.
“I think we did well yesterday,” said Virginia Democratic Party Chair Brian Moran. “In Fairfax, the Republicans were out there beating their chests. I was concerned. We were all concerned. And we really beat that message.”