- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Voters in Norfolk yesterday elected a Democrat to fill a House of Delegates seat in the only special election before the General Assembly convenes next month.

With all of the city’s 16 precincts reporting and all of the absentee ballots counted, unofficial returns showed that Paula Miller, a former television reporter, won 50.5 percent of the vote, while her Republican challenger Michael Ball captured 49.3 percent.

Mrs. Miller drew 3,850 votes and Mr. Ball received 3,758. There were 15 write-in votes.

The special election was held to replace Delegate Thelma Drake, a Republican who was elected to Congress last month. Mrs. Drake had one year left in her term representing the 87th District.

Voter turnout was extremely low.

The Democratic win suggests that Gov. Mark Warner — a Democrat who gave money toward Mrs. Miller’s run and campaigned for her — is a political force to be reckoned with in the 2005 elections. The minority party has now increased its numbers in the state House to 38. There are 60 Republicans and two independents in the House.

Over the last month, Republicans and Democrats agreed that Mrs. Drake’s seat was essentially up for grabs.

Democrats held the seat before Mrs. Drake took office in 1996, and the district — made up of about 34,000 registered voters — leans Democratic. About 7,600 voters went to the polls yesterday.

Norfolk, with a heavy population of military families, voted 61.7 percent for Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry in the presidential election. Last month, Mrs. Drake beat Democratic challenger David Ashe, 35, for the congressional seat with 55 percent of the vote.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, who is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said yesterday a victory in the race would give the party the boost it has been seeking since losing the presidential race.

“We had gained a great deal of momentum with a popular Democratic governor and coming off of a successful legislative session,” Mr. Moran said. “We’d like to regain the momentum we had before November going into the next legislative session and also going into the gubernatorial race in 2005.”

Mr. Moran said Democrats gained seats in the 2003 election, the first increase in his party’s numbers in three decades.

Mrs. Miller, 45, has lived in Norfolk for 20 years. As a delegate, her No. 1 priority will be transportation, she said.

“We’ve got to solve this transportation issue, or we are going to come to a standstill,” she said earlier this month. “We will only accomplish this through a bipartisan effort.”

As a reporter for the Norfolk CBS affiliate WTKR-TV for 15 years, Mrs. Miller covered government and politics, the military community and police. She is now the spokesman for the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office. One of her duties was working with the press during the sniper trial last year of John Allen Muhammad, which was moved from Northern Virginia to Virginia Beach.

Her husband, George E. Schaefer, is Norfolk Circuit Court clerk, a position he won at the polls in November 2003. Mrs. Miller is a member of the Virginia Beach Crime Solvers Board.

Outraising Mr. Ball, Mrs. Miller received campaign donations from a mostly Republican political action committee that supported the $1.38 billion tax increase passed by the legislature in May.

As of Dec. 3, she had raised $112,019 and spent about $43,000, according to campaign-finance reports compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

Mr. Ball, 43, raised $68,820 and spent about $17,000. Most of his donors were anti-tax Republicans, according to campaign-finance reports compiled by VPAP.

Mrs. Miller’s major donors included Mr. Warner’s One Virginia PAC and Leadership for Virginia, a pro-business political action committee formed by mostly Republicans who support the lawmakers who voted for the tax increase. Each PAC contributed $25,000.

Mrs. Miller also received more than $22,000 from the Democratic House Caucus and more than $5,000 from Norfolk Democrats. Other contributors included some Democratic delegates and the PAC for U.S. Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat.

An independent financial adviser, Mr. Ball is the chairman of the 2nd District Republican Party and opposed the tax increases passed earlier this year. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the House five years ago.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Roanoke County Republican, said yesterday a loss would suggest the district belongs to the Democrats. “It’s not a great district” for the Republican Party, he said.

Mr. Griffith predicted that in the next year’s elections, Republicans will retain control of about 60 percent of the House, “plus or minus about four.”

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