- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

The Republican Party's grip on power in Virginia's General Assembly grew even tighter yesterday as the GOP picked up at least a dozen seats in the House of Delegates.
All 100 House seats were up for grabs in yesterday's election, with 39 candidates running unopposed. Most incumbents kept their seats, and as of 11:30 p.m., unofficial returns showed the Republicans had extended their majority.
At press time, unofficial results showed that 64 Republicans were either elected or re-elected, while 34 Democrats won seats. The two independents one of whom caucuses with the GOP also were re-elected.
With the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark R. Warner's victory over Republican Mark L. Earley will test the new governor's political skills.
Veteran delegates will greet 18 new members, who won seats vacated because of a flurry of retirements and the GOP's redistricting.
The Democrats' former majority leader and former House speaker will not be returning to Richmond, leaving a leadership vacuum in the party.
Republicans prevailed in most of the races where newly created districts or retirements left seats open, with GOP candidates picking up 15 of those seats, including victories in Northern Virginia's conservative suburbs.
Republican Scott Lingamfelter won in Woodbridge's 31st District, Mark Cole won in Fredericksburg's 88th District, and Thomas Davis Rust won in Herndon's 86th.
Redistricting did not seem to affect that many incumbents in Northern Virginia, but there were some exceptions.
In the 37th District, Fairfax City Council member J. Chapman Petersen, a Democrat, knocked off Delegate John H. "Jack" Rust Jr., Fairfax Republican, by about 2 percentage points.
Mr. Rust, who had raised $300,000 double the amount Mr. Petersen raised was at a disadvantage because a new district was drawn to incorporate the entire City of Fairfax Mr. Petersen's home turf. Before redistricting, Fairfax was represented by two House districts.
In the Rust-Petersen race, there was mudslinging on both sides of the aisles and the state parties threw money into the campaign, especially the Democrats, who saw Mr. Rust as vulnerable.
Delegate Vivian Watts, Fairfax Democrat, was able to stave off a fierce challenge from Republican Chris T. Craig for the 39th District seat. Mr. Craig all but swamped Ms. Watts' signs in the district with thousands of his own. Mrs. Watts was able to hold onto her seat despite an influx of 25,000 new and mostly conservative voters.
And one of the few local races with flair was between Arlington County Board of Supervisor Chairman and Democrat Jay Fisette, who defeated Republican challenger Michael W. Clancy.
The Republicans were optimistic that creation of the 49th District in Arlington would be instrumental in courting an emerging Hispanic vote. But Democratic Delegate L. Karen Darner, a 10-year veteran in the House, defeated Edgar L. Gonzalez in a race where the Hispanic voting bloc turned out to be smaller than expected.
Legislative districts are reapportioned every 10 years after the census to ensure that they are drawn so an equal number of persons are represented in each. House members serve two year terms.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, Amherst Republican, said he is pleased with the gains Republicans made, crediting much of their success to redistricting and grass-roots campaigning.
"You try to take care of your own," Mr. Wilkins said, adding that he will work with Mr. Warner as long as "he is willing to work with" the House Republicans.
Mark Rozell, a political science professor at Catholic University and longtime observer of Virginia politics, said the reapportionment helped Republicans.
Another Virginia election watcher, Old Dominion University political science professor Stephen K. Medvic, said the Republicans had an edge this year.
"They may be in an even stronger position to push forward on their agenda," Mr. Medvic said, because of their wide margin of victory in the House. He noted that Mr. Warner ran as a conservative Democrat and many of his issues were Republican issues, which will help the House get its way.
Both agreed that the September 11 terrorist attacks overshadowed the House races and made campaigning difficult for most candidates.
State Democratic Party Chairman Lawrence H. Framme III said he was pleased with the results of last night's election.
"It's as good as we had hoped," he said, noting that Republicans did "a masterful job" at redistricting.
Mr. Framme said Northern Virginia seats picked up by Democrats show that Mr. Warner had some coattails and influence. Mr. Framme does not expect gridlock between the House and Mr. Warner.
Voter turnout also was key for both parties, with Cameron Quinn, the secretary of the state Board of Elections saying he expected between 40 percent and 50 percent of Virginia's 4 million voters to go to the polls.
Northern Virginia election officials said they saw turnout as low as 22 percent at some polling stations early in the day, but expected it to creep back up to the average of around 48 percent.
Four years ago, 49 percent of those registered in the state voted.
All of the contested races were characterized by money and lots of it.
Alan Moore, executive director of the state Democratic party said his group gave about $500,000 to the legislative races, while Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state Republican party, said "hundreds of thousands" of dollars have been spent on House races, with that money coming from sources other than just the state party.
The issues in the Northern Virginia House races focused mainly on transportation and education, and the candidates in most races did not differ much in how they would handle the problems.
Democrats, however, hammered away at Republicans for the legislature's inability to get a budget passed during the past General Assembly session and not being able to get more funding for Northern Virginia roads and schools.
Republican candidates fought back, saying the budget impasse was the Democrats not wanting to follow through on the car-tax repeal and in some cases hit Democratic candidates who supported a referendum in Northern Virginia to raise the sales tax, which could go to fund school construction and road building.
The bond referendums in Fairfax County for $378 million to build and repair schools easily passed with more than 80 percent of the vote. A $129 million referendum in Loudoun County for schools and parks and $20 million for a new public safety building in the City of Fairfax were also passed.


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