By Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press
GLEN ALLEN, Va. (AP) — Virginia Democrats are hoping to hold on to their majority in the House of Delegates in an election Tuesday that is seen as a referendum on the sweeping progressive reforms the party has pushed through the legislature over the past two years.
Republicans are looking to take back what they lost two years ago, and have aggressively targeted 13 seats they see as competitive; they need to flip at least six to reclaim a majority. Democrats now hold a 55-45 majority.
The election is being closely watched as a measure of voters’ satisfaction with numerous reforms Democrats have passed, including reforming the criminal justice system, loosening abortion restrictions, expanding voting access, legalizing marijuana and ending the death penalty.
Republicans had controlled the House since 2000, but Democrats won back 15 GOP-held seats in 2017, helped by voter hostility toward then-President Donald Trump. In 2019, Democrats took full control of the legislature by wiping out slim Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
In television ads, Republicans have attempted to depict Democrats as radical liberals who have swung once-conservative Virginia too far to the left.
Polls closed at 7 p.m. Jurisdictions throughout the state reported that turnout Tuesday, in combination with early voting, was set to exceed turnout in 2017. Statewide turnout that year approached 48%, a high number for an off-year gubernatorial election. The turnout in 2017 was in part a backlash to Trump’s 2016 election. Democrats swept all three statewide elections in 2017.
This year, Democratic incumbents face competitive races in northern Virginia, near Richmond, and in the Hampton Roads region. Seats in two of the last remaining predominantly rural districts held by Democrats were also considered up for grabs by Republicans.
In southwest Virginia, Democratic Del. Chris Hurst faced a challenge from Republican Jason Ballard, an attorney, Army veteran and member of the Pearisburg Town Council. Hurst, a former television journalist running for his third term, entered politics in 2017 after his girlfriend was fatally shot while conducting an interview on live TV for their Roanoke station.
In Southside Virginia, Del. Roslyn Tyler, a Democrat who has held her seat since 2006, faced a rematch with Republican challenger Otto Wachsmann, a pharmacist who lost the 2019 race by just 506 votes. Wachsmann portrayed Tyler as being out of touch with her constituents in District 75, an area that stretches from south of Richmond to the North Carolina border and includes expansive tracts of open land, but also encompasses the cities of Emporia and Franklin.
There are nine uncontested seats, eight of them held by the GOP.
Democrats now hold a narrow 21-19 majority in the Senate, where members aren’t up for reelection until 2023.