WASHINGTON — Democrats surged to victory in more than a dozen Virginia House of Delegates races Tuesday, unseating several longtime Republican incumbents and coming within striking distance of retaking control of the House for the first time in 17 years.
As of 10:30 p.m. on Election Day, Democrats had flipped seats in at least 14 districts, according to vote tallies from the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. The gains bested Democrats’ most optimistic scenarios for Election Day, and a handful of additional races were still too close to call and likely headed for recounts.
Republicans currently outnumber Democrats in the House 66 to 34.
In one of the most closely watched races, Democrat Danica Roem, a local journalist, defeated Republican Del. Bob Marshall in Virginia’s 13th District, which includes parts of Prince William County and Manassas Park.
Roem, who carried 54 percent of the vote, made history as the first openly transgender elected official in Virginia history.
Roem made transportation improvements, including widening lanes and removing stoplights on Route 28 in Centreville, a key part of her campaign. But her gender identity drew national attention to the race.
Marshall, who introduced Virginia’s version of the so-called “bathroom bill,” refused to debate Roem and referred to her using male pronouns.
In another upset, Lee Carter, a Navy veteran and self-described Democratic socialist, unseated Republican Del. Jackson Miller, a member of GOP leadership in Richmond, in the 51st District, which also includes parts of Prince William County.
“People are talking about this as a wave. Well, let me tell you, this is a tsunami,” said House Democratic Caucus Leader David Toscano about Democratic victories Tuesday during remarks at a rally for Democratic Gov.-elect Ralph Northam. “And people all across this country are looking at Virginia to see what we did here.”
Toscano told The Associated Press the last time Democrats picked up more than five seats in an election was 1975.
Two years ago, Democrats picked up just a single seat.
This year saw the highest number of House of Delegates races contested by both major political parties in two decades, energized by Democratic opposition to Trump and an increasingly polarized national political climate.
In the 32nd District, Republican incumbent Tag Greason, who was first elected to the Loudoun County seat in 2009, was defeated by Democrat David Reid, a retired Naval intelligence officer and defense consultant.
In the 51st District, which covers parts of Prince William County, Democratic challenger Hala Ayala, a former cybersecurity specialist at the Department of Homeland Security, defeated Republican incumbent Rich Anderson.
In the 67th District, which covers parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Republican incumbent Jim LeMunyon was defeated by Democratic challenger Karrie Delaney.
In the 10th District, Republican incumbent Randy Minchew was defeated by Democratic candidate Wendy Gooditis, a Clarke County realtor and former schoolteacher.
And in the 31st District, Democratic challenger Elizabeth Guzman bested Republican Scott Lingamfelter, who was elected to the seat in 2001.
In two seats currently held by Republicans who had opted not to run for re-election, Democrats defeated their Republican challengers.
Democrat Kathy Tran carried Virginia’s 42nd District, picking up a seat that’s currently held by the GOP. Republican Del. David Albo, who served for 24 years chose not to run for re-election this year. Tran, who becomes the first Asian-American woman elected to the House, defeated Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak.
In the 2nd District, Democrat Jennifer Carroll Foy, a former public defender, defeated Republican Mike Makee, a Navy veteran and member of the Stafford County Utilities Commission.
Democrats also claimed victory in the 40th District, where Donte Tanner, an Air Force veteran and government contractor, had challenged Republican Del. Tim Hugo, who has held the seat since 2002. However, with all precincts reporting, Tanner’s margin of victory was just 68 votes — a razor-thin margin sure to trigger a recount.
Overall, there were 60 contested House of Delegates races this year — more than double the number in 2015.
The AP will not call Virginia House Districts 27, 28, 40, 68 or 94 Tuesday night because the races are too close to call.
Some analysts have said the delegate races offer a glimpse into the national political climate. The races, which are less personality-driven than the gubernatorial race, act as a barometer of how well Democrats are able to turn anti-Trump fervor into electoral success heading into the 2018 congressional elections, Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman has hypothesized.
He said a net gain of at least 10 Democratic pickups would be seen as a harbinger of Democratic enthusiasm ahead of the midterms.
Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.