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GOP takes control, ‘responsibility’ in Va.

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

RICHMOND — Even though election results were still unofficial, Gov. Bob McDonnell and Virginia Republican leaders declared victory Wednesday and made clear they will be in control — complete control — of the General Assembly come January.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican who has stressed bipartisanship during his first two years in office, said he would continue to work with Democrats but emphasized that the buck stopped with the GOP. Republicans immediately flexed their muscles by indicating that they would now put off congressional redistricting until next year.

"Republicans will now have the responsibility and accountability … of governing both Houses," said Mr. McDonnell. "There are no excuses. If there are problems, it's us — and I think everybody understands that."

The declaration was made after the GOP picked up one seat in the state Senate and held a narrow 230-vote lead in the race between Republican Bryce Reeves and entrenched incumbent Sen. R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat, which appears headed for a recount. A victory in that race would create a 20-20 tie in the Senate and an effective majority, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting tie-breaking votes. The GOP also padded its lead in the House of Delegates in Tuesday's elections.

Republicans vowed to focus on issues Virginians care about, such as jobs and the economy. But Democrats predicted the GOP would wield its newfound power to pursue a more conservative agenda that has been beaten back, in large part, in elections across the country this week.

"They're going to come with stuff like personhood and all kinds of stuff," said Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, a Democrat, referring to a ballot measure in Mississippi that voters rejected on Tuesday. It would have established life as starting with conception. "Even in Mississippi, both candidates for governor endorsed that stupid amendment, but the people turned out to be smarter than the politicians, and it got rejected."

Mr. Saslaw and other Democrats took exception to what they described as a premature — and somewhat ostentatious — victory lap, given all the heightened expectations Republicans had put into taking control of at least 20 seats in the Senate.

"I hear Republicans want you to believe that this is a sweeping victory or a mandate for a right-wing agenda," said Brian Moran, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Mr. Moran noted that many of Democrats targeted by the GOP, including several in Northern Virginia, were able to fend off their Republican foes.

Despite the apparent 20-20 split, Mr. Bolling and Sen. Ryan T. McDougle, Hanover Republican, said they would not consider a power-sharing deal.

"Make no mistake about it, there is a Republican majority in the state Senate," Mr. Bolling said. "And that Republican majority fully intends to organize the Senate with a Republican majority."

Such power will include a Republican majority leader and Republican chairmanships on key committees in the Senate, Mr. Bolling said.

Mr. McDougle said he anticipated that would also mean a Republican majority on committees.

"We're not only anticipating it, we're looking forward to it," Mr. Bolling said.

Republicans also made gains in the 100-seat House of Delegates on Tuesday, fattening the GOP majority from 59 to 67 seats, counting Delegate Lacey Putney, a Bedford independent who caucuses with the Republicans. Republicans also declared victory in taking a seat encompassing part of Loudoun County, with David I. Ramadan holding a razor-thin 50-vote lead out of more than 10,000 cast against Democrat Mike D. Kondratick.

House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, said he was "very excited" about the anticipated 68-seat majority, and delivered the news that congressional redistricting would likely be put on hold until January's regular session.

The Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate are at odds over two competing plans. The House plan received input from the state's entire congressional delegation and largely protects all of them, while the Senate plan would make Republican Rep. J. Randy Forbes' southeastern 4th District majority-minority by drawing in some of the black population from Rep. Robert C. Scott's 3rd District, which meanders from Richmond to Newport News.

Of course, Republicans' plans still hinge on a favorable outcome in the Senate race between Mr. Reeves and Mr. Houck.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Reeves led Mr. Houck by about 230 votes out of 45,000 cast. After local canvassing of the results, the state Board of Elections will meet to certify the Nov. 8 results on Nov. 28. After that, the trailing candidate has 10 days to ask for a recount. They can do so only if the difference between the apparent winner and loser is less than 1 percent of the votes cast for the two, or in this case about 450 votes.

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