- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

Republicans are expected to maintain or strengthen their majorities in the General Assembly when Virginians go to the polls tomorrow to elect all the state’s 140 delegates and senators.

With about two-thirds of the General Assembly races uncontested and a new Republican-drawn district map that favors the GOP, only a handful of competitive campaigns have emerged. But Mark J. Rozell, chairman of the politics department at Catholic University, said the slim margin of Republican control in the Senate adds gravity to every race.

“A switch of one or two members could make a significant change on policy votes on the floor or even committee composition on key committees,” Mr. Rozell said.

Mr. Rozell pointed out, for instance, that Sen. Charles J. Colgan, Manassas Democrat, and Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller, Fairfax Democrat, are embroiled in tough races. Sen. H. Russ Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, also faces a serious challenge.

Mr. Rozell also refused to count out an upset or two in House races, though he stuck to the conventional wisdom that a major party shift is not in the offing.

“Most people are thinking this is a stand-pat election with incumbents in a strong position,” he said, “but with all 140 seats up, there is bound to be some change somewhere in the state.”

In the Senate, where the Republicans control 23 of the 40 seats, the GOP has 12 uncontested races and the Democrats seven, leaving 21 seats at stake.

Independents, who hold no Senate seats, are making noise in four races: Two independents challenge Republican candidates; one challenges a Democrat and one is in a three-way race in the 2nd District in Hampton Roads.

Republicans have 26 seats on the line in the House, though Democrats contend in 28 races by challenging the two incumbent independents. The GOP, which now holds a 64-34 majority in the 100-member House, has 38 uncontested races and the Democrats 23.

“I think it’s essentially going to be a wash,” said Lawrence H. Framme III, chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party. “I’ve sort of concluded we’ll come out about where we are — maybe down one in one house or the other.”

State Republican Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin said the party is confident the election will not drastically alter the partisan makeup of the General Assembly.

Republicans controlled redistricting two years ago for the first time in state history, redrawing district boundaries to protect and strengthen their domination of the legislature. The GOP majority in the House grew by a dozen seats in the first election after redistricting in November 2001. This will be the first Senate election since the new district map.

University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato told the Associated Press the new map not only fortifies GOP control, but also discourages competition by devising districts that lean either strongly Republican or Democratic.

In the 31st District, for example, Republican challenger Kamal M. Nawash has waged an aggressive campaign and raised more money than Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, an Arlington Democrat, but state GOP officials have practically conceded the race in that heavily Democratic district.

“It is beyond disgraceful that Virginia has 66 percent of its seats unopposed by the other party,” Mr. Sabato said. “It’s a Virginia record in modern times, and it’s not a record to be proud of. Nationally, only 37 percent of legislative seats were unopposed in 2002.”

He said he expected low voter turnout. “This is as dull a year as I can ever remember in Virginia,” he said.

Mr. Sabato predicted Democrats could pick up a couple of House seats. Republicans Melanie Rapp of York County and L. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William County are facing tough challengers, and seats formerly held by Republicans in Prince William and on the Eastern Shore are in play, he said.

Democratic House incumbents involved in tough races include Benny Keister of Radford and J. Chapman Peterson of Fairfax City.

Meanwhile, voters in Fairfax County will decide the contest for chairman of the Board of Supervisors between Providence District Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat, and Republican School Board member Mychele Brickner. The two spent the final weeks of the campaign hurling insults.

Barbs were also traded in the contest for Fairfax sheriff between Sheriff Stan G. Barry, a Democrat, and Republican challenger James Aubrey Vickery, who have been accused, respectively, of financial mismanagement and coddling inmates.

In Arlington County, four candidates are vying for two seats on the County Board. Contenders include two Democratic incumbents, Paul F. Ferguson and J. Walter Tejada, with Republican challenger Richard K. Kelsey and independent challenger Sarah J. Summersville.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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