Lewis wins Virginia Senate special election
Democrats scramble to fill leadership positions after taking control
Del. Lynwood Lewis, D-Virginia Beach, won the Virginia Senate special election in the vacant 6th district by 11 votes Monday after a recount was conducted in several localities.
“Senator-elect Lewis will be a welcome addition to our caucus and will be an able successor to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam,” Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, said. “This close election is yet another reminder that every vote counts, and we’ll continue to work hard to ensure every Virginian’s right to vote.”
Republican’s had hoped to secure control of the Senate by winning the special election, which was called after Northam won the race for lieutenant governor. With Lewis’ victory against Norfolk businessman Wayne Coleman, there will again be an even split of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans in the Senate. Northam will serve as the tiebreaker.
Under Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling held the deciding vote, giving Republicans control of the Senate for the past two years .
Lewis originally won the special election by just nine votes. Virginia law permitted Coleman to request a recount, as the margin of victory was less than one percent.
Six ballots were specifically challenged — five in Norfolk and one in Accomack. After the recount, two votes were changed in Lewis’ favor in the Norfolk district, producing a final count of 10,203 total votes for Lewis and 10,192 for Coleman.
Coleman’s campaign manager, Austin Chambers, said Coleman was pleased with the recount efforts and conceded the election once a judge ruled Lewis had won.
“We wished Del. Lewis the best as he moves on to serve the people of the 6th district,” Chambers said.
Chambers said he believes Coleman beat expectations in the tightly contested election, stating the large voter turnout is a reflection of the support Coleman received as an amateur candidate.
“Many of the editorial boards, the pundits, the lobbyists and the special interest groups had written us off,” he said.
Myron McClees, a policy analyst with the Virginia Board of Elections, said the recount process was conducted all day Monday and went smoothly.
“I think everybody did a phenomenal job in the localities,” he said. “Luckily, they had the experience of having done the attorney general’s race as well.”
That Nov. 5 race, between current Attorney General Mark Herring and his Republican challenger Mark Obenshain, required a similar recount which lasted through December.
Lewis’ victory set off a chain reaction in the Senate Tuesday, with many Democrats taking control of crucial chairmanships.
“The voters have made it clear,” Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said. “They have had three consecutive elections in which they could have given Republicans indisputable control of this chamber, but every time they chose to elect a Democrat. We now have the majority, and we have a responsibility to use that majority to get to work on the issues that voters care about.”
The shift occurs just as Gov. Terry McAuliffe begins to enact his legislative agenda, which includes expanding Medicaid in Virginia under the Affordable Care Act.
Despite the Democratic victory, Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, does not believe the change in leadership will affect future legislative action, as the Virginia House of Delegates is still heavily controlled by Republicans and can block Democratically-backed legislation.
“[McAuliffe] can veto whatever a Republican House and Senate would [have sent] out,” he said. “Now a lot of bills just won’t get to his desk, because a lot of bills will die in the Senate. We’re going to try to do our best to work with [the Senate] in the best interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”