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Republican Split May Give Democrats Control Of Virginia Senate

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Lt. Gov-elect, Ralph Northam, left, and Attorney General-elect, Mark Herring, right, prepare for the start of the Senate session during opening ceremonies of the 2014 General Assembly at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. Both Northam and Herring are being replaced via special election.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Lt. Gov-elect, Ralph Northam, left, and Attorney General-elect, Mark Herring, right, prepare for the start of the Senate session during opening ceremonies of the 2014 General Assembly at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. Both Northam and Herring are being replaced via special election.

The outcome of two special elections may determine the fate of the Virginia state Senate.

One of the special elections is headed to a recount, although the Democrat has been certified as the winner of the Norfolk seat. That means control of the state Senate may rest on the special election in Loudoun County next week to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Mark Herring — a race which features long-time Republican Joe May running as an independent.

"It seems like, all in all, the best odds are probably that the Democrat ends up winning with a plurality because May and the other Republican, or the Republican, end up splitting the Republican vote," says Geoff Skelly, an analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Even if Democrats retain the state Senate seat, they still might have a hard time using their newfound one-vote majority. When Republicans took control of the Senate back in 2012, they set a leadership structure that will last the entire four-year term.

Skelley says making the change will probably require a lawsuit.

"If anything is going to happen, if anything is actually going to change the setup in the Senate, there will probably have to be some kind of court ruling," Skelley says.

But will Democrats be willing to take on Republicans? George Mason University professor Toni-Michelle Travis says moving forward with a lawsuit would be a mistake.

"He's talking about this bipartisan effort, and to challenge them in the court system with his own Democratic attorney general now might be a little too hardball," Travis says.

Travis says Democrats might have better luck by reaching across the aisle.

"I think McAuliffe will identify Republicans that might be brought over to the Democratic side on some issues," Travis says.

The special election in Loudoun County is scheduled for Jan. 21.

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