Democrat Jennifer Wexton scored a big victory in a special election for the Virginia Senate Tuesday night, putting her party within reach of a majority there and setting up a major shift in the state’s political balance of power.
Wexton defeated Republican John Whitbeck and independent Joe T. May, scoring 53% of the vote in the race to fill the seat vacated by Mark Herring, who new Governor Terry McAuliffe tapped to serve as Attorney General. Republicans still control the House of Delegates, but if Democrats can retain the seat vacated by Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, they will gain control of the state Senate.
Democrat Del. Lynwood W. Lewis won the race for Northam’s seat by only nine votes, and Republican Wayne Coleman officially requested a recount last week. If the outcome changes after a recount, Republicans will hold a 21-19 margin that could threaten McCauliffe’s legislative agenda.
Wexton focused her race on a wooing women voters, a constituency that played a key role in electing McAuliffe last November. Reproductive rights issues have been a major part of Virginia politics since former Governor Bob McDonnell signed legislation that requires women to undergo an ultrasound before being allowed to have an abortion. An early version of the bill would have required an invasive procedure called a transvaginal ultrasound.
A Democrat-controlled Senate would help McAuliffe expand Medicaid in Virginia, one of his major early legislative goals.