- Associated Press - Thursday, October 8, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Partisan control of Virginia’s state Senate is up for grabs this November and both parties and special interest groups are spending heavily on a handful of races that will likely decide which party wins. Republicans currently enjoy a 21-19 advantage, but Democrats can take control by gaining one seat thanks to Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s status as a tiebreaker.

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is coming up to the midpoint of his term in office, has invested heavily in helping his party take control of the Senate. Doing so would help him gain leverage against a House of Delegates dominated by the GOP. And both parties are looking for a morale boost ahead of the 2016 presidential election, in which swing-state Virginia is likely to play a key role.

The retirement of two moderate longtime senators, one Republican and one Democrat, has led to two highly watched open-seat contests. And there are four incumbents who may be vulnerable. Here are the six Senate races expected to be the most competitive:



One of the most high profile races is the Richmond-area Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. John Watkins, a longtime moderate Republican who occasionally sided with Democrats on key issues. The district has leaned slightly Democratic in recent statewide elections.

Democrats are hoping Dan Gecker, a developer and Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors member, can flip the seat. He’s made women’s health issues and the need to expand Medicaid in Virginia top campaign themes. Gecker has also been a major funder of his own campaign.

The Republican nominee Glen Sturtevant is Richmond School Board member and young father who has positioned himself as a member of a “new generation” of conservatives. His major financial backer includes a Washington-based GOP group largely backed by corporate interests and a state-based tea party group.

Libertarian Carl Loser and independent Marleen Durfee are also running.



Another closely watched open state Senate race is the 29th District, which stretches between I-66 and I-95 in Prince William County. Longtime Democratic Sen. Charles J. Colgan is retiring. Like Watkins, Colgan is a political moderate who occasionally crossed the aisle.

Republicans are hopeful that Hal Parrish, the mayor of Manassas, can draw on his long-standing local ties to turn the District red. Parrish’s father was also mayor of Manassas and served in the House of Delegates. Parrish is running against Democrat Jeremy McPike, an administrator for the city of Alexandria.



Democrat Lynwood Lewis successfully won a special election to represent the 6th District last year by 11 votes, earning him the unofficially nickname “Landslide Lewis” at the Capitol.

Republicans are hoping Lewis will have less success this year against GOP challenger Richard Ottinger. Campaigning in the 6th District is not easy, as it includes parts of Hampton Roads, a portion of the middle peninsula and all of the Eastern Shore. Both candidates are lawyers.



The Virginia Beach contest between GOP incumbent Sen. Frank Wagner and Democrat Gary McCollum is likely to be one of the more pricey battles. Wagner has raised more than $1.2 million and McCollum has raised at least $717,000, according to the most recently available campaign finance data.

Democrats had high hopes for McCollum, a former cable executive who was recruited by McAuliffe’s office. But McCollum misstated his military record during the early part of the campaign, a possible lethal misstep in a district home to many active and retired service members.



In the 13th District, which includes Republican-leaning parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, Democrats are looking to unseat outspoken GOP incumbent Richard Black, a former military lawyer and pilot.

Black gained international attention when he wrote a letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad thanking him for defending Syrian Christians; he subsequently earned explicit condemnation from the Islamic State militant group.

Domestically, Black has garnered attention in the General Assembly as one of its most outspoken abortion opponents.

Democrats have nominated pediatrician Jill McCabe to run against him. She was recruited by Northam, the lieutenant governor, to run.



Democrat-turned-independent Don Caldwell likely doesn’t have much of a chance to win the Roanoke-area 21st District, but he could determine who doesn’t win.

Caldwell, Roanoke’s commonwealth attorney, could take enough votes away from incumbent Democrat John Edwards to help Republican Nancy Dye win.

Edwards is a longtime senator and one of the few remaining Democrats in the General Assembly left in the western part of the state. Dye is a retired physician.

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