Politics

Democrats will control Virginia government for the first time in more than two decades

With Democratic governor, Dems can advance agenda

RICHMOND, Va. - Democrats will win majorities in Virginia's House and Senate on Tuesday, CNN projects, giving the party full control of the state's government for the first time in more than two decades.

The victories put Gov. Ralph Northam and Democrats in the Legislature in position to pursue a progressive agenda -- including gun control measures, which majority Republicans had blocked, and a higher minimum wage.

With the "trifecta" of the House, Senate and governor's office, Democrats will also control the redistricting process after the 2020 census, drawing the new maps for congressional and state legislative districts.

The result on Tuesday night was a continuation of the years-long collapse of the GOP in what until recently had been a swing state. Virginia voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election and elected Republican Bob McDonnell governor in 2009, but the state has backed Democratic presidential and gubernatorial candidates since those elections.

The victories completed a Democratic comeback in the state Legislature that began in 2017, when Democrats made major gains in the Legislature, largely through suburban districts, and Northam won handily in an early sign of backlash over Donald Trump's presidency.

That election left the GOP with a 51-49 House majority and a 21-19 advantage in the Senate, and Democrats immediately began targeting legislative seats in hopes of winning control this year.

Northam said Wednesday those recent wins in the state contributed to the Democrats' victories on Tuesday.

"What's going on in Washington right now, no doubt, it's a factor. And then, you know the gun violence issue in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We had a tremendous tragedy back in May," he told CNN's John Berman on "New Day" referencing the mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May that left 12 people dead. "I think they're very pleased with the progress that we as Democrats have made over the last couple of years and they really want us to continue working on that progress."

Another factor, he said, is House Democrats' ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

"This President has been an embarrassment to this country," he said. "And sold ourselves to other countries, our allies. I mean it's just one thing after another and I think it's catching up with him. Certainly was a factor."

Democratic Sen. Dick Saslaw, a veteran lawmaker, strode to the podium at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Richmond on Tuesday night, telling the packed ballroom, "Thomas Jefferson told me there'd be nights like this."

Many Democrats attributed Tuesday night's energy to a main source: Trump.

"The temporary occupant of the White House and with his tweets, that made a difference," said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, the current Democratic House leader and the person poised to become the first female speaker of the House. "That energized the base."

Republicans conceded Trump's influence loomed large as well. Chris Jankowski, a GOP strategist advising candidates in several competitive districts, said that Trump fatigue and concerns about gun violence played a big role in Democrats carrying the day.

"Trump and guns were the difference," Jankowski said.

Democrats were also not afraid to link the results in Virginia to the next big race on the calendar, arguing that the rejection of Trump and his policies here portend trouble for Republicans across the country in 2020.

"Donald Trump is too much," said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. "It's not really leadership, it's just the shenanigans and the corruption. We're done with it. And that's why you see a blue wave tonight, one that will continue right into next election."

The new base of power in Richmond will certainly lead to a whole host of issues in Virginia getting a second look. Progressive issues like the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, a boost to the state's minimum wage, the expansion of reproductive rights and tighter gun control laws were all promises made by Democratic leaders Tuesday night.

But Republicans were already warning with this newfound power, Democrats could fundamentally re-shape Virginia in way that many voters might not expect. And they promised to not go down without a fight.

"We will fight that agenda at every turn, but with unchecked control of both Houses and a governor still desperately seeking rehabilitation, we will have our work cut out for us," said Del. Todd Gilbert, the current House majority leader. "One thing is for certain, Democrats will completely own the results of the next two years."

CNN's Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.


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