|Democrat Jennifer Wexton handily defeated Republian John Whitbeck and independent Joe May in Tuesday’s special election for the Virginia Senate’s 33rd District seat. Times-Mirror Photo/Rick Wasser|
Democrat Jennifer Wexton bested two veteran Loudoun County politicians Tuesday night to earn a seat in the Senate of Virginia and almost assuredly give Virginia Democrats majority power in Richmond for the first time since 2009.
Ms. Wexton's victory over Republican John Whitbeck and former Republican state Del. Joe May, running his Senate race as an independent, caps a momentous two months for Democrats in Virginia, whom last November swept the top three offices in the commonwealth – the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general posts – for the first time in two decades.
Tuesday's election wasn't even close. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Ms. Wexton led Mr. Whitbeck 53 percent to 37 percent. Mr. May had garnered nearly 10 percent of the vote.
While the 40-member state Senate is now split evenly between the two parties – assuming Democrat Lynwood Lewis holds his own special election victory through a recount in Virginia's 6th Senate district – Democrats hold the tie-breaking vote with recently elected Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (Mr. Lewis' would-be predecessor).
"It feels terrific," Ms. Wexton, a former assistant commonwealth's attorney and prosecutor, told the Times-Mirror Tuesday night. "I want to thank my field team. We knocked doors in the rain, in the freezing rain, in the snow and they never complained."
Speaking on what her decisive victory tells her about her Northern Virginia constituency, Wexton said, "They're sick of divisive and extreme politics. They want to send someone to Richmond who will work across the aisle on common sense solutions -- transportation, schools, the economy."
"Jennifer will continue Mark Herring's long history of working to strengthen Virginia's economy and supporting legislation that makes the commonwealth the best place to live, work and raise a family," said state Del. Charniele Herring, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Mark Herring (no relation), who won the attorney general race in November, left vacant the Virginia Senate 33rd District seat and set up Tuesday's snowy, closely-watched contest.
Tuesday's seemingly low turnout of slightly more than 20 percent wasn't too stark of a surprise. It was actually seen by some as robust considering two factors; the election collided with most severe snowfall of 2014 and it was held in late January, a time when politics and local elections aren't typically central in the mind of average Americans.
Part of Wexton's strong performance can be attributed to an enthusiastic and well-coordinated “get out the vote” effort from Wexton's campaign and Virginia Democrats. Wexton supporters were quick to spread the word Monday and Tuesday that, given the inclement weather, they'd be providing rides to voters in the 33rd District.
Mr. May, known as a moderate who served two decades in the House of Delegates, was the first of Ms. Wexton’s opponents to concede.
“While I wish tonight’s outcome had been different I have enjoyed the opportunity to tour the 33rd senate district and to have met so many enthusiastic people in this truly unique campaign,” Mr. May said. “I congratulate Jennifer Wexton on her victory and hope that she carries on the bipartisan record of now Attorney General Mark Herring who I was pleased to work with on many occasions from across the aisle.”
According to Wexton campaign officials, Mr. Whitbeck, the chairman of Virginia's 10th Congressional District Republican Committee, called the Democrat to concede and congratulate her on her win.
This is a developing story. More information will be provided as it becomes available.