Special Election In Loudoun County Could Help Decide Who Controls Virginia Senate | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Special Election In Loudoun County Could Help Decide Who Controls Virginia Senate

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Virginia Attorney General-elect Mark Herring smiles during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, after his Republican rival and fellow state Sen. Mark Obenshain conceded after a recount of the Nov. 5 election put victory beyond his reach.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Attorney General-elect Mark Herring smiles during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, after his Republican rival and fellow state Sen. Mark Obenshain conceded after a recount of the Nov. 5 election put victory beyond his reach.

In Virginia, voters in Loudoun County are about to go back to the polls to select a replacement for State Senator Mark Herring (D-Loudoun), who was elected attorney general.

In order for newly elected Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam to be able to break ties in the Senate, Democrats will need to win two special elections now underway — one to fill the seat vacated by Herring, whose district stretches from Leesburg to Sterling.

The race features longtime Republican Delegate Joe May, who was ousted earlier this year in a primary after he supported tax increases to finance the transportation package. May wanted to run for Herring's seat as a Republican, but disagreed with the way the primary was organized, so now he's running as an independent against Republican John Whitbeck, who is best known for telling a joke at a Republican event earlier this year about a Jewish leader sending the pope a bill for the Last Supper.

"Joe May has a history of winning elections, but he's made enemies within the Republican Party by running as an independent. The Republican has a devoted following, but it may not be enough particularly with an independent Republican in the race," says Stephen Farnsworth, a professor at the University of Mary Washington.

The Democrat in the race is Jennifer Wexton, who will benefit from a divided Republican Party.

"The Democrat will have to get people out to making the case that if the Senate doesn't remain 20-20, the Democratic gains in the lieutenant governor's race aren't going to matter," says Farnsworth.

Special elections can be difficult to predict, though — turnout is usually very low, which favors Republicans.

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