- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2001

Virginia Democrats will have their work cut out for them trying to hold on to seats in the House of Delegates in November after 10 veteran members retire from office.
Democrats acknowledge the tough fight ahead, but they insist any gloom-and-doom predictions are premature.
"Reports of our party's demise in Virginia are greatly exaggerated," said Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, Fairfax Democrat, who is running for re-election this fall. "What this means is that everybody is going to have to step up to the plate and work a little harder, fight a little harder. And if the issues are right, we'll be just fine."
But Scott Keeter, a political analyst and government professor at George Mason University, said the departure of Democratic incumbents from the House and the recent lack of success in congressional elections could be seen as "the end of the Democratic Party in Virginia as we know it."
Mr. Keeter said this week that Democrats would be lucky to win 40 of the 100 House seats up for election in November. As a result, the party would lose the power-sharing agreements that give them co-chairmanships and proportional representation on committees.
"This means that the Democratic Party will have to develop a new set of leaders," Mr. Keeter said. "They should treat it like a fresh start."
Republicans now hold 52 seats to the Democrats' 47. The sole independent, Lacey E. Putney of Bedford, caucuses with the Republicans.
Mr. Keeter said Republicans should be careful about how they use their strength. The party could see a backlash if voters believe it is taking the state too far to the right or if constituents see a repeat of the budget impasse from last year, he said.
"They must maintain some sort of balance," Mr. Keeter said. "If Republicans begin pushing really strong conservative themes like restricting abortion, they could face a strong reaction from voters the next time around. Then there could be some positive signs for the Democrats."
Most of the Democrats who are leaving their seats have said they fell victim to the recent redistricting, which Republicans controlled for the first time. Redistricting enabled Republicans to draw new legislative lines to their political advantage by lumping several Democratic incumbents into districts with fellow party members.
Among the delegates not running for re-election are William W. Bennett Jr. of Halifax, C. Richard Cranwell of Roanoke, Barnie K. Day of Patrick County, Alan A. Diamonstein of Newport News, V. Earl Dickinson of Louisa, George W. Grayson of James City, Thomas M. Jackson Jr. of Carroll County, A. Donald McEachin of Richmond, Thomas W. Moss Jr. of Norfolk, and Donald L. Williams, also of Norfolk.
One other Democrat, Delegate Watkins M. Abbitt Jr. of Appomattox, will leave the party and seek re-election to his House seat as an independent this fall.
Five Republican delegates also are not planning to run again. They are Harry B. Blevins of Chesapeake, Paul C. Harris of Albemarle, Jay K. Katzen of Fauquier, who is the party's nominee for lieutenant governor, Roger J. McClure of Fairfax and Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes of Richmond.
The departure of Democrats gives Republicans a chance to increase the majority they won for the first time two years ago. By the end of the decade, high-ranking party officials have said, Republicans could gain up to 10 seats.
"This will absolutely help the Republican Party," said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia. "We have recruited top-tier candidates who will be really good challengers for the open seats. The open seats are the easiest to pick up."
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith said the departures won't have any significant effects on policy.
"I still think it'll be middle of the road. We will miss the people, but this change will be healthy. We'll get fresh ideas," said Mr. Griffith, a Salem Republican.
Democrats, meanwhile, said they will have to work harder to recruit more candidates to retain the seats up for grabs.
The filing date for candidates is Aug. 21, and party members are confident they will find strong candidates who will win the open seats.
"There's lots of talent in the Democratic Party," said Delegate R. Creigh Deeds, Bath Democrat and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "Every time you lose someone, someone else steps up. We'll be all right. We'll continue to be a factor in Virginia."

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