Earlier tonight, Republican Delegate Ben Chafin, a freshman who has served only one year in the General Assembly, won a an emphatic victory (more than 59 percent of the vote in a three-candidate field) in the 38th Senate district special election to fill the seat vacated in June by former Senator Phil Puckett, a Democrat. Chafin's win gives the Republican caucus a true majority by addition with 21 seats, rather than the 20-19 plurality it has enjoyed by Puckett's subtraction since a Sunday night in early June. The 38th district is in the Old Dominion's Southwest, a traditional Democrat stronghold, but has trended Republican in recent years. In fact, with the win, there no longer are any coalfield Democrats remaining in the General Assembly or Congress. Puckett, one of the remaining and rare "moderate" Democrats and long serving senator, was considered the only candidate who could hold that seat.
Puckett's resignation gave the GOP a majority in the middle of a protracted overtime budget session, caused by the insistence of Governor Terry McAuliffe and Senate Democrats of including the Obamacare/Medicaid expansion in the state budget, where that type of funding had never been (federal money is not a state expenditure). It brought the commonwealth to the brink of an unprecedented government shutdown. The Senate had been deadlocked at 20-20 with Democrats retaining control because of Democrat Lt. Governor Ralph Northam's tie-breaking vote. But with Puckett's resignation, Senate Republicans had a 20-19 majority, rendering Northam's vote useless.
Republican Senate Leader Tommy Norment quickly brought the Senate into session and reorganized the body with GOP committee majorities and chairmen, and worked out an Obamacare-free budget with the GOP dominated House. (It eventually became law after McAuliffe's amendment to include the Obamacare expansion was ruled non-germane by House Speaker William Howell.)
As one wag said at the time: Never get in the way of Tommy Norment and power.
The Republican majority, however, was temporary until today's election was done and dusted. It guarantees at least 21 GOP seats and complete control of both chambers going into the 2015 session and a 21-18 majority as the General Assembly reconvenes for a special session in September to further discuss Medicaid and elect judges, as many nominees had been frozen out due to the split in the Senate and budget standstill, including Puckett's daughter. Another special Senate election will occur on November 4 to fill a seat that encompasses a corridor from eastern parts of the City of Richmond to the City of Petersburg, which is expected to go easily for Democrat Roslyn Dance, a Democrat delegate from Petersburg.
Two special elections for House seats also were held today, both in heavily Democrat districts, to fill seats vacated by Democrats. Both Democrats won, but Republican Dave Foster in the Arlington-based 48th district, received 38 percent of the vote, which topped even the GOP 2009 statewide landslide recent high water mark there. Perhaps that's a sign there's a GOP mini-surge, even in Virginia's bluest areas. The House likely will need two more special elections to get to its 100-member allotment: one to fill Chafin's seat and one, almost certainly, to fill Dance's seat. Expect crowded GOP and Democrat nomination fields for those respective campaigns as each seat is a lock for those parties.
Republicans were ecstatic, as one might expect, even though Chafin was the favorite. While Republican statements were flying through cyberspace via e-mail and social media, Democrats had little to say. Even the normally loquacious Donald McEachin, Senate Democrat Caucus chair, who lets fly with an e-mail over the slightest Republican maneuver perceived to hinder the common good, was unusually quiet. Here's Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins' gleeful statement regarding the Chafin win:
Congratulations to Senator-elect Ben Chafin on his amazing win tonight in Senate District 38! Ben and his team ran a fantasticcampaign, and I look forward to working with Majority Leader Tommy Norment and Speaker Bill Howell to advance our shared conservative values for years to come.
Tonight's results also mark a major milestone in Virginia history. Due in in no small part to the liberal policies of President Obama and Mark Warner, there is no longer a single coal country Democrat in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mark Warner and other Democrats long ago abandoned the coal fields. Now, voters have returned the favor.
But tonight also gives the first tangible evidence of a coming Republican wave in November. In both Southwest and Northern Virginia, Republicans have outperformed expectations. Even in deep blue Arlington County, our Republican team has put up numbers that many would have thought impossible — outperforming even the results of the GOP tidal wave in 2009.
Virginians are tired of the malaise that President Obama, Mark Warner, Terry McAuliffe, Dick Saslaw, and Don McEachin have delivered. And come November, they're going to make that abundantly clear — again.
This is the first outright Republican majority in the Senate since 2007, when it lost four seats to go from a 23-17 majority to a 21-19 minority. It controlled the chamber with 20 seats and then-Lt. Governor Bill Bolling's tie-breaking vote from 2012 to the first few weeks of the 2014 session. Then the Democrats won two special elections to achieve 20-20 parity and reorganized committees in an unprecedented mid-session takeover amid great contention.