- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

Republicans are all but guaranteed to win 51 seats and retain control of the Virginia House of Delegates in Tuesday's elections. How much of a margin the party gains, though, depends on who wins the open seats created by Republicans during redistricting this year.
Democrats are hoping a strong showing by Mark R. Warner, their gubernatorial candidate, will help some of their challengers in close races, and Republicans are clearly worried a poor showing by their candidate, Mark L. Earley, will hurt their chances. That's why news yesterday of an internal Republican poll showing Mr. Warner with only a 6-point lead was encouraging to Republicans, who think if they can win or at least keep the margin of loss close they will do fine in the House.
The bottom line in this year's delegate races is that Democratslet many Republicans run unchallenged and put up such tepid opposition in so many other races that they don't have a realistic shot of regaining control of the assembly.
Twenty-five Republicans are running unopposed, four have only minor opposition from independents, and another 22 are facing lukewarm challenges, Republican strategists say. On the other hand, 14 Democrats are running unopposed many of them in majority-black districts that Republicans have little hope of winning.
Democrats have a decent shot of knocking off four Republican incumbents John H. "Jack" Rust Jr., Richard H. Black and Thomas M. Bolvin in Northern Virginia and Melanie L. Rapp in York County. Republicans, meanwhile, have a shot at beating three delegates in southwest Virginia John H. Tate Jr., W. B. "Benny" Keister and James M. Shuler and an outside chance of beating Delegate Kristen J. Amundson in Fairfax County.
Mr. Warner's strong showing in Northern Virginia, where polls show him leading by about 20 percentage points, will help his down-ballot party members, both parties agree.
"The Republicans that are in trouble are in trouble primarily because of their location," said one Republican strategist.
Currently Republicans control the assembly with 22 seats in the Senate and 52 seats in the House, along with one conservative independent delegate who almost always sides with the Republican caucus.
During this year's session, the GOP-dominated legislature drew new district lines based on the 2000 Census, and while the 40 Senate districts aren't in play until 2003, the 100 House seats are. In drawing the new map, Republicans eliminated the seats of several Democratic leaders and created open seats that are ripe for picking.
Early on, Republicans had hoped for more than 60 seats, but now think 60 is a high-end prediction. Democratic delegates predict Republicans and conservative independents will take closer to 55 seats.
One difference worth noting this year is that some candidates don't agree with the top of the ticket on key issues, causing a difference of opinion that's been hard to conceal from voters. That was not the case in 1997, when Republican candidates ran side by side with gubernatorial candidate James S. Gilmore III on his "no car tax" pledge.
This year's estrangement has led to a mix of blessing and blame. While it has deprived delegates of a unifying message, it also has insulated them from this year's legislative budget impasse that left public employees without pay raises and hurt Mr. Earley's campaign. Thanks to their insulation, the embarrassing deadlock won't cause many incumbents to lose their seats.
One unknown factor is how party identification will affect the vote. For the first time this year a candidate's party affiliation will appear next to his name in races for state office.


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