- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Virginia Republicans and Democrats were locked in a tight battle for control of the state Senate late Tuesday, with the outcome likely to shape the remainder of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s time in office. Polls closed at 7 p.m.

The GOP had a narrow 21-19 advantage heading into Election Day, and a net gain of one seat for the Democrats would give them effective control of the chamber with the tie-breaking vote of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

In one of the most closely-watched contests, Republican Hal Parrish and Democrat Jeremy McPike were battling to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Charles J. Colgan to represent the 29th District, covering parts of Prince William County in Washington, D.C.’s outer suburbs.

Mr. Parrish had worked to link Mr. McPike to Mr. McAuliffe’s proposal to impose tolls on high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway, while Mr. McPike got some major outside help from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, which launched an ad campaign totaling more than $1.5 million against Mr. Parrish.

Mr. McPike also had outspent Mr. Parrish by about 2-to-1 on TV ads through Nov. 2, according to a compilation by the Center for Public Integrity. The political action committee of Mr. McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also spent heavily on the race, as well as others in the state.

In another tight race, Republican Glen Sturtevant was battling Democrat Dan Gecker in the Richmond-area 10th Senate District to replace retiring GOP Sen. John C. Watkins in a contest Democrats had eyed as a prime pick-up opportunity. That race included Independent Marleen Durfee and Libertarian Carl Loser.

Mr. McAuliffe had said that a net pick-up of one Senate seat would brighten the prospects for items on his agenda like Medicaid expansion, gun control and education spending.

But even with the state Senate hanging in the balance, Mr. McAuliffe would still be limited by a solidly Republican House of Delegates, which was on track to easily remain in GOP hands.

In a somewhat unusual move, the state Democratic Party circulated a memo well before the polls closed that said the 2015 election had always been an “uphill climb” and the fact that Democrats were heading into Election Day competitively was an indication of the ground they have gained.

The memo also cited “fatigue” from the seventh year of a Democratic presidency in a state where there are five statewide elected Democrats, gerrymandering, and outside spending by groups like the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity.

The party said its demographic gains are among populations that don’t typically turn out to vote, “especially in an off-off-off year.”

Though Senate control will be important for Mr. McAuliffe’s final two years in office, both sides also got a bit of a chance to test out their messages and ground game ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Virginia will be crucial for both parties in their quest for the White House, and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — the Democratic front-runner and a close friend of Mr. McAuliffe — recently made a stop in the state.

“Is the Democratic coalition Obama-centric or is it Democratic-centric?” said former U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican who represented the Northern Virginia suburbs. “They’ve come out for Obama — they’ve never come out for anybody else … without Obama on the ticket, how do you drive the minorities and young people out?”

President Obama won about 53 percent of the vote in 2008, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state in more than 40 years, and the president won the state with 51 percent of the vote during his successful 2012 re-election campaign.

In 2012, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine waas elected with nearly 53 percent of the vote, but both Mr. McAuliffe in 2013 and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in 2014 won with less than 50 percent of the vote.

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