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Loss for Conservative E.W. Jackson Could Spell Win for Senate Republicans

RICHMOND, Va. – While Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli duke it out in the gubernatorial election, another race is being fought more quietly – one that could have a deciding effect on Virginia’s legislative system.

Democratic state Sen. Ralph Northam is facing Republican preacher E.W. Jackson in the race for lieutenant governor. But GOP officials may be smiling even if Jackson loses, as polls predict. That’s because Northam would have to give up his seat in the now-evenly-divided Virginia Senate – opening the door for Republicans to capture an outright majority in that chamber.

Northam holds a 16 percentage-point lead over Jackson, according to the Roanoke College Poll. The survey, released Wednesday, showed Northam at 48 percent and Jackson at 32 percent. (The remaining respondents were uncertain or did not answer. The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.) Previous surveys by The Washington Post/Abt SRBI and Christopher Newport University also gave Northam double-digit margins.

If Northam wins on Tuesday, a special election would be called to fill the seat representing the 6th Senate District, which includes parts of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore.

Norman Leahy, author of the politically conservative blog “Bearing Drift,” said the potential vacancy in the Senate is something neither party should take lightly.

“I would hope that both parties have been thinking about this for a long time. They would be fools not to,” Leahy said. “If a Republican were to win Northam’s seat, which I think is possible, it would drastically change the way the General Assembly works up until 2015, when the next Senate election is held.”

In Virginia, the lieutenant governor presides over the 40-member Senate and casts tie-breaking votes in that chamber. Bill Bolling, the current lieutenant governor, has been able to capitalize on that role because of the 20-20 party split in the Senate.

If a Republican wins Northam’s seat, the numbers would tilt 21-19 in favor of the Republicans.

“Republicans in the past have used Bolling to help organize the Senate and cast votes in their favor. If that seat is taken by a Republican, they would have an outright majority, and the lieutenant governor would be nothing more than a figurehead role,” Leahy said.

He said a shift in the balance of power could upset McAullife’s ability to govern if he were to win.

“If he [McAuliffe] wins and the Senate goes Republican, we would have a Democratic governor with an all-conservative legislative body. It would be very hard for Terry to get things done,” Leahy said.

Northam isn’t the only statewide candidate potentially vacating a Senate seat. Both candidates for attorney general – Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain – are state senators.

VCU political science professor John Aughenbaugh predicted there will be two Senate seats vacated.

“I think McAuliffe is going to win the governor’s race, Northam lieutenant governor and Obenshain attorney general. That would mean special elections would be held for both Northam and Obenshain,” Aughenbaugh said.

Obenshain has a slight lead in most polls, although the Roanoke College Poll put Herring ahead. If Obenshain wins and must vacate his Senate seat, it wouldn’t have dramatic political ramifications, Leahy said.

“Obenshain represents an area that is pretty conservative. I highly doubt that a Democrat would have the opportunity to win that seat,” he said.

When a Senate or House seat becomes vacant, the governor calls a special election. Leahy said those campaigns can pose a challenge for political parties and candidates.

“These elections happen in a very compressed amount of time. They take place during an absolutely terrible time for a political race – right around the holiday season,” Leahy said. “Running that race is going to be tough for either party, but I know the Republicans are going to put everything they’ve got into winning if Jackson loses.”

The 6th District seat that Northam holds has voted both Republican and Democratic. From 1941 to 2000, the seat was held by a Democrat. But from 2000 to 2008, Republican Nick Rerras represented the district.

While Leahy believes the seat is up for grabs by either party, Democratic Delegate Algie Howell disagreed. Howell has been a delegate since 2004, representing some of the same parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach as Northam. He doubts a Republican will take the seat.

“Anything is a possibility; it depends on who runs and how strong the candidate is. The district he [Northam] is in leans Democrat, so I don’t see a chances of Republican winning as that great,” Howell said.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, also said he is optimistic a Democrat would win Northam’s seat.

“His district is a good Democratic district. I know at least two great candidates for that seat – Lynwood Lewis and Paula Miller,” Petersen said.

Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, Prince William, also said he is confident in the Democrats’ chances to retain the 6th Senate District seat.

“I don’t think Ralph would have ran for lieutenant governor if he thought there was a strong chance a Republican would take his seat,” Barker said.

What makes the lieutenant gubernatorial race so interesting, Leahy said, is Jackson’s rise to the position. He has never held elective office and came out of nowhere to win the Republican nomination over six other candidates at the party convention on May 18.

“At the convention, Jackson’s people showed up, and they stayed through all of the ballots and won. I don’t think anyone was as surprised as him when he won the nomination,” Leahy said.

“Now he has to run a campaign he has never run before. His only prior experience was getting just over 4 percent of the votes in the U.S. Senate race. He’s like the dog who caught the car. Now, what’s next?”

Before his nomination, Jackson was relatively unknown, but he has made a name for himself with comments like, “The idea Obama is a Christian is laughable.”

So how did Jackson win the nomination? Was it because of dedicated supporters, or was there something going on behind the scenes? Leahy said he believes ulterior motives could have factored into the nomination.

“I don’t think he was set up on purpose to lose to Northam to open up his Senate seat. I doubt the Republicans are that smart,” Leahy said. “What I do think could have happened was the other candidates were spiteful that Jackson won the early rounds of the convention and threw him their support with the mindset ‘If I can’t have this seat, no one can.’”

Ultimately, Leahy said it is hard to predict anything when it comes to special elections. Past voting patterns and the specific district can only tell so much.

“If you look at history, some trends seem to be true. They work until they stop working. With a Democrat in the White House, Virginians assume the next governor will be a Republican, but it may not happen,” Leahy said.

“It all comes down a party’s ability to get people out in a low-turnout election. It puts both parties to a test stand. A candidate stands as good a chance as anybody in those elections.”

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  • Potomac Clubber

    Terry McAuliffe said all needs to do is have a beer with someone and he can come up with a compromise. With the GOP controlling both houses of the General Assembly he will be drinking quite a lot of beer in the next six years.

  • PeterP

    Ok, let me get this straight.

    the dems will win the Gov seat by a 7 or 8 point margin. Win the Lt. Gov seat by double digits easy and its a dead heat for Attorney General.

    And some kind of way this is good for republicans to take this type of loss in state wide elections?

  • PeterP

    Does it bother any republicans that the current gov is a republican who you all supported but is absent from doing any campaigning? Kind of like GWB in 08 and 12.

    Why do you think that is?

  • Marcus A


    A number of candidates are distancing themselves from McDonnell because of the ongoing investigation. I don’t think any candidate of any party would want to be associated with someone that is under the scrutiny that McDonnell is under.

    • PeterP

      The GOP candidate for gov also has ties to that investigation.

      My point is 4 years ago republicans told us that the gov. was worthy of the support. Vote for him. And now we have a guy that is really dirty.

      No ownership…. No one speaking out….. What he did was wrong. But of course we need to wait until after the election to say anything right?

      Fro mwhat we know as fact he should be out of office.

      Its just interesting watching republicans act like everything is ok.

      Can you imagine if the Gov was a democrat? Do you think the GOP would be so silent?

      • Marcus A

        First let’s also add that the Democratic candidate is under federal investigation as well.

        But to your point, Cuccinelli acknowledged his part of the scandal and donated the money. He was clearly making an effort to distance himself from McDonnell.

        Why are you going on and on about the current governor? He is old news at this point, you won’t have to worry about him leading our state again. He clearly has issues, wasn’t very forth right, but it’s over now, so who cares? We should be focused on what is happening right now with these elections not the past.

        • PeterP

          lol. Acknowledged his part in the scandal.

          18K in gifts and to the attorney general and no one thinks that is wrong.

          republicans are GREAT at ignoring things. If the current Gov. was a Democrat every sentence about Terry would start with teh Gov.s name linking the two togeather. Especially if they campaigned with one another a few years back. And took THOUSANDS of dollars from the same guy.

          But hey, he gave it back so I guess no harm no foul.

          As for old news… Not so fast. I just continue to see a pattern of supposedly social conservatives get in office and do misdeeds and then it gets swept under the rug like it does not matter…. Vitter, McDonnel, Cooch, Ensign (although finnally he resigned years later), Bush, Sanford.

          The list goes on and on. At some point it becomes a pattern.

          • Marcus A

            I didn’t say that there wasn’t anything wrong with how he handled it, I was just explaining your original point of why no one is using McDonnell to campaign. I think it’s not good that he took that money, but I don’t hear you discussing Terry McAuliffe’s indiscretions with the same tenaciousness as you are discussing the Republicans.

            I agree that there are a lot of corrupt leaders in the GOP, but there are plenty on the Democratic side. Do you know what McAuliffe is being investigated for? Are you going the extra mile to research both candidates or are you taking this whole good (Democrats) versus evil (GOP) approach that much of our country is doing. I think if you want to be critical, I think we can find people on both sides of the aisle, who have been unscrupulous. It’s really sad because neither candidate is squeaky clean but these are the options we are given to decide.

  • PeterP

    I did in fact look into Terry’s so called investigations. And like many business people one of his “companies” is under investigation and in other instance he had to answer questions but is not the target.

    I can also add that I am not to concerend about that since business can be a funny thing. HOWEVER, if you are elected to do the PEOPLES business you have no RIGHT taking 18K from a guy while you prosecute a “whistleblower” who is telling on that guy.

    Something stinks to high heaven on that one.

    Look, I am no fan of Terry. He is better than the candidate that ran 4 years ago who was also terrible.

    This should be a cake walk for any republican against a guy “terry” that most dems do not even like.

    The fact that a not well liked democrat can win a election by more than 5 points over a sitting AG in the state that has a republican gov in virginia says alot for a of year election.

    And you keep glossing over the fact that Ken and Bon took money from the same guy! How you do not have a issue with that is beyond me.

    • Marcus A

      The problem with Terry’s company ( is he was one of the founders and is still the largest stockholder of the company. To dismiss this simply because it wasn’t directly him is utterly ridiculous. The company is being accused of breaking federal law. What leader of a company would not know that what they were doing was unethical especially when it’s involving at least a half a million dollars? Then he mysteriously left the company? Oh but that’s right it’s not him, so it’s no big deal. That doesn’t stink to you? And how can you dismiss something that is still under investigation? You are being very bias.

      How do you know what I have an issue with? How do you know what I know about the investigation with Cuccinelli and McDonnell. I can go on and on about it, but honestly you have said everything that needs to be said. Both sides are corrupt. Both candidates are not great representatives of our state and nation, but that is all we have to choose from.

      • PeterP

        1. I completely agree.
        2. When it comes to currupt and dishonest I look at it two ways. terry as a businessman is doing what millions of other business people do. I am suing a company right now over unethical practices. But elected leaders should be held to a higher standard.

        Ken has worked in state government and on state boards for the majority of his career then started a private practice that did most of his business with who? You guessed it… state government. He is the ultimate insider and the payments from Star (direct gifts to him) would never have been known had he just stayed enriching himself from taxpayer funds.

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