Va. special election could shift state Senate control

WASHINGTON — Candidates are battling to the wire and rallying voters in Northern Virginia, but few residents have taken notice.

“Considering we just had a gubernatorial election in Virginia … the public isn’t, understandably, thinking it’s election season,” says Geoffrey Skelley, spokesman for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

The election, which will be held Tuesday, was announced just before Christmas.

“The winter break does have the tendency to lower the political chatter,” Skelley says. “People just aren’t engaged.”

But the race for the 33rd District could determine the balance of power within the state Senate.

The incumbent will fill the seat left vacant by State Attorney Mark Herring in the 33rd District, and determine whether Gov. Terry McAuliffe will have a Democratic majority or whether Republicans will remain in charge as they were under former Gov. Bob McDonnell.

“If we win, it’s a Republican majority in the state Senate,” says John Whitbeck Jr., the Republican candidate.

“If I win we will be able to maintain (the Senate’s) 20-20 tie. But because Ralph Northam, as lieutenant governor, would have the tie-breaking vote, the Democrats would be able to take control of the Senate,” says Jennifer Wexton, the Democratic candidate.

Former Delegate Joe May is running as an Independent in the race. While in the House, he served much of the same area but lost his seat of 20 years in the Republican primary last spring largely due to his support for the state’s transportation funding reform law, which increased the state sales tax but also shrunk the retail gas tax.

“We are knocking on thousands of doors, we are making thousands of phone calls to voters,” says Whitbeck, a family law attorney.

Wexton, a lawyer who previously served as a prosecutor in Loudoun County, also promises a vigorous effort in the final days of the campaign.

“We will be out in full force this weekend, we’ll have a couple of get-out-the-vote rallies at our headquarters in Sterling and Herndon,” Wexton says.

The current balance in the Virginia state Senate is 20 Republicans and 18 Democrats.

The outcome of a special Senate race on the Eastern Shore held earlier this month is not yet known. However the Democrat currently holds the lead.

WTOP’s Alicia Lozano contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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