Chamber piece: Democrats fight an uphill battle for Senate control

Joe Morrissey. Photos: Scott Elmquist, file photo Joe Morrissey. Photos: Scott Elmquist, file photo

As we wander toward this November’s General Assembly elections, one thing is perfectly clear: There is no way in hell that Virginia’s Democrats are going to retake the House of Delegates. In fact, it’s a near-certainty that the House will stay in Republicans’ hands until at least 2020, when the nation’s decennial census will trigger a redistricting that might finally break the Virginia GOP’s built-in electoral advantage. (Doubtful, but a donkey can still dream.)

On the other side of the capitol building’s Great Rotunda, however, the State Senate is still very much up for grabs. Republicans currently hold a 21-19 advantage, which gives them huge leverage when it comes to stymying Governor Terry McAuliffe’s agenda. Old Dominion Democrats would like nothing better than to flip at least one seat into their column, which would allow current Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam to cast a tie-breaking vote, thereby giving Dems effective control of the chamber.

Whether or not they can make this happen, however, is far from certain. It will require them to hold a number of competitive seats, while also flipping at least one currently red district into the blue column. The most likely pickup candidate will probably come from the 10th District, where longtime Republican Senator John Watkins is retiring. Although the district’s composition would seem to favor Democrats slightly (the largest chunk lies in Chesterfield County, with the City of Richmond and a portion of Powhatan County making up the rest), the traditionally right-leaning makeup of the off-year electorate will make this a very tough race.

Another senate district touted by Democrats as a pickup opportunity is the 13th, where deeply conservative Senator Dick Black (best known for handing out plastic fetuses to his fellow lawmakers before an abortion bill vote, railing against the “radical homosexual agenda” and sending a letter filled with effusive praise to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) is up for reelection. But Black has proven himself a very effective campaigner, and his district leans right, so this is also far from a sure thing.

On the defensive side, the donkeys face the real possibility of losing a number of districts, including the 6th (currently held by Senator Lynwood Lewis), the 21st (held by Senator John Edwards) and the 29th (an open seat following the retirement of Democratic Senator Chuck Colgan).

The Dems’ real nightmare scenario, however, is if former delegate Joe Morrissey—who recently finished serving a six-month jail term for contributing to the delinquency of a minor—triumphs in his quixotic quest to get on the primary ballot in the 16th District. Although Democratic party officials denied his filing due to a lack of valid signatures, Morrissey is currently suing to have that decision overturned. And if that fails, there’s a very good chance that Morrissey—who is nothing if not shameless—will jump into the general election as an Independent, which is exactly how he regained his House of Delegates seat following his scandal-driven resignation in January. And if that happens, there is little doubt that the Republicans will actually field a candidate in this solid-blue district, betting that a split Democratic electorate might give them a surprise pickup.

So like we said: a tough row to hoe for team blue. But it’s early days, so who knows how it will all shake out? After all, with over six months to go until election day, the wild ride has barely begun.

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