- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2005

Virginia Democrats are eyeing next month’s special elections as a chance to increase their numbers in the House of Delegates or the Senate, even though significant shifts in the General Assembly are unlikely.

“We are encouraged by the 2005 results, and we hope to continue the momentum,” says Delegate Brian J. Moran of Alexandria, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Three special elections have been planned before the General Assembly convenes Jan. 11, and a fourth has yet to be scheduled:

• Delegate L. Preston Bryant Jr., Lynchburg Republican, is leaving the House to become secretary of natural resources for Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat. A special election for his 23rd District House of Delegates seat will be held Jan. 10.

• Delegate Jackie T. Stump, Buchanan Democrat, is resigning for health reasons. A special election for his 3rd District House seat will be held next Tuesday.

• Sen. William T. Bolling, Mechanicsville Republican, was elected lieutenant governor last month and takes office Jan. 14. A special election for his 4th Senate District seat will be held next Tuesday.

• Sen. William C. Mims, Loudoun Republican, will become chief deputy attorney general under Attorney General-elect Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican. A special election for his 33rd District seat has not been scheduled.

After the 2005 elections, the House has 58 Republicans, 39 Democrats and three independents, and the Senate has 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

More special elections, which tend to draw low turnout and energize the base of each party, are anticipated in coming weeks. Mr. Kaine has several Cabinet appointments left to make, and several lawmakers have been rumored as contenders.

In addition, Republican Delegate Ryan Todd McDougle is favored to win Mr. Bolling’s seat over Democrat Roger Cavendish. If Mr. McDougle wins, he would vacate his House seat, prompting another special election.

Mr. Moran says Democrats must hold onto Mr. Stump’s House seat, which is in a Republican-leaning district in Southwest Virginia.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith says Republicans view Mr. Stump’s seat — in coal country — as an opportunity to strengthen their numbers.

Both Mr. Moran and Mr. Griffith, Salem Republican, say they expect the race for Mr. Mims’ Senate seat to be competitive.

The Loudoun County district is part of the growing outer suburbs of the District that have voted Republican in presidential elections but favored Mr. Kaine last month.

“Our chances are better than they were back on November 8 because President Bush’s numbers are up higher in Northern Virginia,” Mr. Griffith says.

He says he expects Republicans to keep the House seats held by Mr. Bryant and Mr. McDougle, if he wins his Senate race.

Mr. Bryant is best-known statewide for leading a group of Republicans who voted for a $1.38 billion tax increase last year. Praised by Democrats, he was removed by Republican leaders from his position on the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats, who held a wide majority for more than a century in Virginia, had been losing seats in the past three decades. The 2003 elections brought them their first gains, and they have been picking up seats in elections since.

Mr. Griffith predicts that Republicans will retain their majority “well into the next decade,” in part because of redistricting, but says total party domination is unhealthy for democracy.

“The control the Virginia Democrats had in the House of Delegates was longer than the Soviet empire,” he says. “I don’t think that will ever happen again, nor should it, either by Democrats or Republicans or some other party.”

In 1944, there were 98 Democrats and two Republicans in the House, and 38 Democrats and two Republicans in the Senate.

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