Northern Virginia is likely to have more than a few state and local races decided by the slimmest of margins in today's elections, and one of them, the state senate race in the state's 39th district, has major ramifications for the balance of power in Richmond.
If Democrats lose just two state senate seats Tuesday, Republican Lt. governor Bill Bolling becomes the tie-breaking vote in that lawmaking body. Virginia's 39th District, comprised of parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, is currently held by Democrat George Barker.
"I think we need a government in Richmond that represents broad interests, rather than narrow partisan interests of one party," says Barker.
While the professorial Barker is touting his ability to work across the aisle, challenger Miller Baker is focusing on local issues including education funding, and criticizing Barker's record of voting for tax increases. (Baker did not respond to interview requests for this story.)
Democrats in Virginia do not control any of the statewide offices right now, and they're likely to remain a minority in the House of Delegates for years to come, according to one political analyst.
"Essentially, control of the Senate is where Virginia Democrats are hanging on to power -- you might say, for dear life -- right now," says political scientist Bob Holsworth. No matter who wins, Holsworth says, both parties will be looking for hints as to what will happen in Northern Virginia in 2012's national races.
"The electorate no doubt will be very different, but I can assure you that people are going to read a very significant message out of what happens on Tuesday," Holsworth says.
The race for the 39th district in 2007 was also a tight one: back then, Barker was elected by just 761 votes. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. today.