- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2000

Democrats no longer have a chance to recapture control of the Virginia House of Delegates, but they can gain a stronger voice in the crucial redrawing of voting districts if they win some seats in tomorrow's special elections.

The success of Republican state lawmakers on Nov. 7 three of whom won congressional seats, and one of whom won a seat in the state Senate has left three open House seats and one open Senate seat to be filled.

The elections are all in the central and southeastern part of the state.

Republicans have fielded candidates for all four slots, but Democrats didn't field a candidate for one of the House seats, meaning they can't overcome a Republican 53-47 majority, which includes the aid of a conservative independent delegate, Lacey E. Putney, from Bedford.

Even so, the difference between a three-seat majority, should all the Democratic candidates lose, and a one-seat Republican majority if the Democrats win, is much more than two seats.

A razor-thin one-seat majority spells heartburn for Republican leaders.

House Republicans have had problems keeping their troops in line on some votes. A three-vote cushion means Republicans can lose some of their members on votes and still win the issue.

Also, it allows Republicans to vote against the party when reasons particular to their district crop up, without sinking the party's position.

"You don't want your majority to be dependent on your weakest member in the most marginal district," said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state Republican Party.

But the real prize for Democrats is a bigger role in this year's redistricting.

"Obviously, at whatever you want to call the split 50-49-1 [with Mr. Putney] we will have a lot of influence on redistricting," said Steve Vaughn, a spokesman for the Democratic Caucus.

Special elections for state legislative races always hinge on which party can get the most voters to turn out and that will be even more so for elections coming less than a week before Christmas.

Frank W. Bacon, a tobacco farmer and teacher at Longwood College, is the Democrat running against Republican Thomas C. Wright Jr. in the House district in Mecklenburg County, on the North Carolina border. Both men are members of the Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors, so both bring the same type of political base to the race.

That district used to be held by Delegate Frank M. Ruff, who on Nov. 7 won a state Senate seat left open by the death of Democrat Richard J. Holland.

Mr. Ruff's former district and the district left open by Rep.-elect Jo Ann S. Davis are both competitive races in truly swing districts.

For Mrs. Davis' old seat, Republican Melanie L. Rapp, a member of the York County Board of Supervisors, is facing Democrat Patrick R. Pettitt, a lawyer. Both have had good support from their parties.

In the House district vacated by Rep.-elect Eric I Cantor, Democrats didn't field a candidate. Republican John M. O'Bannon III must fend off only independent Sterling W. Hening to keep the seat for Republicans.

In the Senate, the fight is over whether Republicans will have a 22-18 majority, if they hold onto the seat Tuesday, or a 21-19 edge if they lose it.

The seat was vacated by Rep.-elect Edward L. Schrock. Delegate Frank W. Wagner is trying to hold the seat for Republicans. Former Virginia Beach City Councilwoman Louisa M. Strayhorn is the Democratic candidate.

If Mr. Wagner wins that Senate seat, yet another special election will be held to fill his House seat. Republicans, smelling victory, already are lining up to run for their party's nomination for it.

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