Democrats win full control of Virginia statehouse

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Democrats continued their winning streak under President Trump on Tuesday and took full control of the statehouse for the first time in more than two decades.

Virginia General Assembly | WHSV FILE

You can find election results for the Shenandoah Valley – where Republicans won every state legislature race – here.

Suburban voters turned out in big numbers to back Democratic candidates, continuing a trend of once GOP-friendly suburbs turning blue. This is the third election in a row in which Democrats made significant gains since Trump was elected.

"I'm here to officially declare today, November 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue," Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam told a crowd of supporters in Richmond.

Of the four states with legislative elections this year, Virginia is the only one where control of the statehouse was up for grabs. Republicans had slim majorities in both the state House and Senate.

National groups, particularly those aligned with Democrats, pumped huge amounts of money into the contests as a way to test-drive expensive messaging and get-out-the-vote campaigns ahead of the 2020 cycle. Gun control and clean-energy groups affiliated with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent several million dollars helping Democrats.

Virginia also drew several high-profile visits from 2020 presidential hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as current Vice President Mike Pence.

President Donald Trump tried to rally Republicans via Twitter but stayed out of Virginia, a state he lost in 2016.

The only candidate Trump endorsed by name, Republican Geary Higgins, was handily defeated in a contest for a northern Virginia Senate district that was previously held by the GOP.

The president's election three years ago has been disastrous for Virginia Republicans, particularly in growing suburban areas. Democrats have won every statewide contest, picked up three additional congressional seats and now are set to control both the state house and the Executive Mansion for the first time since 1994.

Republicans hoped in vain that an off-year election with no statewide candidates on the ballot would help defuse the anti-Trump energy that powered previous cycles. GOP lawmakers also bet on the specter of a possible Trump impeachment providing a last-minute surge by motivating the Republican base.

Democrats have pledged that when they take power, they will pass an agenda that Republicans have blocked for years, including stricter gun laws, a higher minimum wage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the final state needed for possible passage of the gender equality measure.

Democrats were keenly focused on gun issues during the election, saying Republicans should be held accountable for failing to pass new restrictions after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach earlier this year.

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to use the tragedy for political gain while focusing heavily on past Democratic efforts to loosen restrictions for third-trimester abortion. The GOP also warned of higher taxes and energy prices if they lose the majority.

House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert on Tuesday predicted that Democrats would pursue an "extreme agenda" that would undo Republican efforts to make Virginia a business-friendly state.

"Virginians should expect public policies that look a lot more like the train-wreck that is California than the Virginia of good fiscal management and common-sense conservative governance," Gilbert said in a statement.

Tuesday's election could help cement Democratic rule for the next decade, because the winners will decide who controls the next redistricting process. Lawmakers approved a proposed constitutional amendment this year that would create a new bipartisan commission empowered to draw legislative and congressional maps, but Democrats would have to sign off on it again next year before it could be presented to voters.

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Statements from various officials and groups on the transition of power can be found below.

Governor Ralph Northam issued this statement:

“Tonight, the ground has shifted in Virginia government. The voters have spoken, and they have elected landmark Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House of Delegates. I am proud of my fellow Democrats and inspired by our shared victory.

“Since I took office two years ago, we have made historic progress as a Commonwealth. Tonight, Virginians made it clear they want us to continue building on that progress.

“They want us to defend the rights of women, LGBTQ Virginians, immigrant communities, and communities of color. They want us to increase access to a world-class education for every child, and make sure no one is forced to go bankrupt because they or a family member gets sick. They want us to invest in clean energy and take bold action to combat climate change. And they want us to finally pass commonsense gun safety legislation, so no one has to fear being hurt or killed while at school, at work, or at their place of worship.

“I look forward to working with our new Democratic majority to make these priorities a reality. Together, we will build a stronger, more inclusive, and more just Commonwealth.”

Statement from Virginia Senate Democrats:

Senate Democrats have won 21 seats so far and have claimed the majority in the Virginia Senate. There are still three outstanding Senate races that are too close to call. This historic win cements Democratic control of the chamber.

“The voters of Virginia have spoken and they have mandated a Democratic majority in the Senate who will address gun violence prevention, affordable healthcare, and public education funding. After years of Republican inaction on these issues, we’re ready to get to work immediately,” said Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw. “Both Democrats and Republicans ran on these values and now we must work across the aisle to tackle these issues that are most important to our Commonwealth.”

“After picking up at least two seats this evening, we’re proud to claim victory for the voters of Virginia,” said Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke. “I want to thank the candidates, voters, donors, and countless volunteers whose efforts will usher in a Democratic majority that will focus on the issues most important to our Commonwealth.”

Statement of Speaker Kirk Cox:

"The voters of the Commonwealth of Virginia today carried on a 400-year-old tradition in representative government. As we have done since 1619, people across Virginia cast ballots to decide who would represent them in the oldest continuously-elected lawmaking body in the New World.

"I congratulate those who were elected and re-elected to the House of Delegates tonight. When the House convenes in January, we will welcome new members on both sides of the aisle, and, for the first time in two decades, a new party will sit in the majority.

"When Republicans took the majority 20 years ago, we preserved proportional representation on committees and sought to treat our colleagues with the respect that should be afforded to all equal members in an institution as revered and esteemed as the House. I hope and pray those traditions continue regardless of who wields power in the years to come.

"I am deeply proud of what the House of Delegates has accomplished during the last two decades. We balanced the budget, protected our AAA bond-rating through a major recession, passed four teacher pay raises in six years, froze college tuition, made major reforms to our transportation system, secured our state's pension system for the future, and guided Virginia to the nation's top state for business.

"Those results did not happen by accident, and they are not guaranteed to continue. The course set by the next General Assembly will affect the lives of millions for years to come.

"Representative democracy began in Virginia 400 years ago, but it does not end tonight. Voters will have the opportunity soon to judge those elected based on their policies and results, not just promises and rhetoric of campaign season. Until then, Republicans will work with Democrats where we can, speak out against overreaching policies when we must, and always seek to guard the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is my sincere prayer that God will continue to bless our great Commonwealth."

Former Governor McAuliffe’s Statement:

“The era of Republican obstruction in the Commonwealth of Virginia is now over. While tonight we celebrate the history we have made, tomorrow we must begin rewarding voters with action.

Travelling around the Commonwealth the last 6 months at over 130 events for Virginia Democrats, I have heard loud and clear Virginians are desperate for protection against gun violence, a raise in the minimum wage, an increase in education funding, relief from ever-rising prescription drug costs, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, leadership in the battle against climate change and continued growth of our open and welcoming New Virginia Economy.

We have the power to take Virginia to the next level, and under the leadership of Governor Northam and a Democratic General Assembly, we can be confident we will get results."

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee statement:

“The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee made Virginia our top target in 2019 and that focus carried us to victory in the country’s most competitive election,” said DLCC President Jessica Post. “I want to congratulate all of our incredible candidates, the committed staffers and volunteers in Virginia, and our amazing national partners. Their hard work and dedication has pushed the commonwealth forward into a new chapter.”

Democrats began the work of flipping the General Assembly in 2017, when they successfully flipped 15 House seats. They entered this year’s elections holding 49 districts in the 100-member House and 19 districts in the 40-member Senate.

“While Republicans floundered under the albatross of Trump, Democrats focused on the issues that matter most to voters. Our candidates were united in protecting health care expansion, passing commonsense gun safety and investing in schools,” Post said. “We also benefited from Donald Trump’s unpopularity. As long as Trump continues to burn down Washington from his dumpster fire White House, Democrats will continue turning out to vote up and down the ballot.”

While Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in a decade, Democrats have not controlled the full General Assembly since 1995 and have not had trifecta control of state government since 1993.

“As a Virginian, I can say firsthand the commonwealth isn’t California or New York. This is still a swing state — but voters from both parties made it clear they agree with Democrats on the issues,” Post said. “A Democratic General Assembly is finally going to act on gun safety, they’re going to protect health care and they’re going to invest in schools.”

In December, the DLCC announced an early investment of $1 million in Virginia, which sent a clear signal the Assembly could be flipped — opening a floodgate of support from national progressive organizations and energizing the Democratic grassroots in the commonwealth.

Tonight’s victory also has national implications. Democrats control both of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats and won a majority of the state’s congressional delegation in 2018.

“The GOP will no longer be able to gerrymander Virginia’s congressional maps, their already weak fundraising is going to dry up, and they’ll lose this state in 2020,” Post said. “Donald Trump can kiss the commonwealth goodbye. Virginia is for lovers, not haters.”

Since Donald Trump’s election the DLCC has flipped 10 legislative chambers from red to blue. In 2020, Democrats will target more than 20 Republican-held chambers in over a dozen states.

“The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spent this year out-fundraising, out-communicating and out-working our Republican counterparts — and we’re going to keep up the pace through next November,” Post said. “Ahead of this crucial redistricting cycle, Democrats won’t let up. We’re focused on flipping statehouses every bit as much as the White House.”