Richmond – Republicans appeared on the cusp of taking control of the Virginia Senate Tuesday with at least one veteran Democrat losing to a freshman Republican senator and a seven-term Democrat trailing a Republican challenger.
In the House of Delegates, Republicans picked up at least six seats, staking them to 66 of the chamber's 100 seats, the GOP's largest House majority ever. That doesn't count a conservative independent, Del. Lacey Putney, who organizes with House Republicans and another race that was too close to call.
Democrat Roscoe Reynolds lost his bid for a fourth term to freshman GOP Sen. Bill Stanley in the Senate's marquee race, bringing the GOP to within one seat of 20-20 split in the 40-member Senate. Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling breaks Senate tie votes.
In the deciding race, Democratic Sen. Edd Houck trailed Republican Bryce Reeves by 86 votes out of nearly 45,000 cast with all precincts reporting in a race too close to call. If the lead stands, the GOP will hold a working majority on the Senate floor, but Tuesday's margin of less than one-fifth of a percentage point is subject to a recount.
There was no immediate reply early Wednesday morning to telephone and text messages seeking comment from Houck on whether he would demand a recount.
Under state law, the candidate who trails by a percentage point or less can ask for a recount after the results are certified on Nov. 28. The localities involved in the race pay for the recount if the results are within half a percentage point.
An evenly divided Senate gives the GOP the upper hand, but will likely yield equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans on Senate committees, which has been a perennial killing ground for most conservative bills for years.
Sen. Dick Saslaw, leader of the Senate's Democrats, sought solace that the results were not as dire as the easy Republican takeover many had predicted.
"It is what it is," he said. "A 20-20 split is considerably better than what everybody was expecting when people were predicting we could lose five to nine seats."
Stanley had a plurality of 46.8 percent of the vote, about 1.25 percentage points ahead of Reynolds, despite tea party activist Jeff Evans taking 7.6 percent of the vote from conservatives. A poor economy and persistent high unemployment in the Southside Virginia district hit hard by declines in the American furniture and textile industries made jobs the dominant issue in the marquee race.
Other targeted Democrats held on, however.
Sen. Phillip Puckett narrowly kept his seat in southwestern Virginia coal country against a challenge from Republican Adam Light. Democratic Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke defeated Republican Del. David Nutter, and first-term Democrat John Miller withstood a bruising final barrage from Republican Mickey Chohany.
Puckett's race was so contentious that he renounced his party's president, Barack Obama, after Light and the GOP labeled him as Obama's man in southwestern Virginia. Obama's support for the failed cap-and-trade clean energy legislation is so unpopular in coal-mining areas that it helped defeat longtime U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher last fall.
Edwards won 56 percent of the vote over Nutter, whose base of support was Montgomery County where balloting snafus delayed final results.
Miller, the target of a last-minute GOP television ad blitz accusing him of accepting a job from an aviation services firm after supporting legislation giving the company tax breaks, won with 51.4 percent of the vote.
Democratic Sen. Linda "Toddy" Puller survived a close contest with ousted state Republican Party Chairman Jeff Frederick. Puller had about 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Frederick.
Republican Tom Garrett scored the GOP's first major Senate victory, winning an open seat over Democratic businessman Bert Dodson in a sprawling rural district.
In the House, Republicans eclipsed their previous high of 64 seats attained after the 2001 election. Tuesday's results left the Democrats, who dominated the House from the end of Reconstruction until 1999, with only 32 seats. Republicans also stood to gain another seat if David Ramadan's 50-vote lead out of 10,000 cast over Democrat Mike Kondratick holds up after a possible recount.
In a House race rich in symbolism but strategically insignificant, Democratic Majority Leader Ward L. Armstrong of Henry County lost a matchup against Republican Del. Charles Poindexter.
Poindexter took about 53 percent of the vote in the Southside Virginia district.
Republicans had targeted the feisty and combative Democratic floor general, first through redistricting by moving the district he had represented for nearly 20 years 200 miles to the north, then by staking Poindexter to hundreds of thousands of dollars after Armstrong chose to take him on.