Virginia Democrats have claimed at least half the seats in the state House of Delegates after a recount on Tuesday, giving the party a seat at the table in the lower chamber for the first time in two decades.
In a recount Tuesday, Shelly Simonds (D) gained a net of 11 votes, enough to hand her victory over incumbent Del. David Yancey (R) by a single vote. Simonds’ win in the 94th district, which covers part of Newport News city, makes hers the 16th Republican-held seat that Democrats picked up in last month’s elections.
The new result will leave the House of Delegates split at 50-50, erasing Republicans’ slim 51-49 margin after the November elections, with one recount pending.
In that recount, in the 28th district, Republican Bob Thomas leads Democrat Joshua Cole by 82 votes. The contest was marred by an error that handed a small handful of voters ballots from the wrong district, and Democrats have threatened legal action.
Democrats won all three state executive offices in November, by wider than expected margins.
Yancey was one of 17 incumbent Republicans who represented districts Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential contest. Clinton beat President Trump in the district by a 49 percent to 44 percent margin. Sixteen of those 17 seats flipped party control in November.
“Anywhere in Virginia that Hillary Clinton did well in 2016, Republicans did poorly in 2017. It was an enormous blue wave that didn’t care about campaign messages or issues really,” said Tucker Martin, a longtime Virginia Republican operative.
Martin said the results should be a wake-up call for his party heading into next year’s midterm elections.
“These primarily presidential year Democrats were there to send a message, via proxy, to the president. And they did. These results should be one heck of a warning to the national Republican Party in advance of 2018,” Martin said.
A Virginia circuit court will ratify the recount results on Wednesday. Neither campaign challenged any ballots reviewed by the Newport News Board of Elections, making ratification almost certain.
In a statement, the Virginia Republican party conceded it lost its majority in the House of Delegates.
“After a close recount it appears the citizens of the 94th District have elected Shelly Simonds to the Virginia House of Delegates, pending confirmation by a three judge panel,” the statement read. “We congratulate Delegate-elect Simonds and welcome her to this historic body. We also thank Delegate David Yancey for his distinguished service.”
Once Simonds is seated, and if Thomas holds his slim lead in the 28th district, the House would be locked in a 50-50 split. There is no tie-breaking vote, so Democrats and Republicans would have to come to a power-sharing agreement.
“We are ecstatic to welcome Shelly Simonds to our caucus,” House Democratic leader David Toscano said in a statement. “We are one vote closer to expanding Medicaid and extending access to affordable health care to nearly 400,000 people.”
Outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a proponent of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, included an expansion in a budget request released this week. His successor, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D), also backs expanding Medicaid.
Republicans hold a 21 seat to 19 seat majority in the Virginia state Senate. Senate seats next come up for election in 2019.