In The Political Trenches: Virginians Go To The Polls (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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In The Political Trenches: Virginians Go To The Polls

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Back to "Metro Connection," I'm Rebecca Sheir. And this week we're in the trenches. We turn now to what, metaphorically anyway, may be the deepest and dirtiest trenches of all, the political trenches. This week, Virginia has been the site of some pretty intense politics as voters cast their ballots in general assembly races. And a few very tight Senate races have led to what looks to be a very big change in Richmond. Jonathan Wilson joins us now to explain just how close it was and who came out on top. So Jonathan, where do we stand?

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:40
Rebecca, Republicans needed to win just two state Senate seats held by Democrats. That would make Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling also a Republican, the tie breaking vote in the Senate. And the GOP did just that, but not by much. A republican challenger Bryce Reeves defeated Democratic incumbent Edd Houck, but just 222 votes. That's within the .5 percent that entitles him to a recount. But on Thursday Houck did concede. Democrat Roscoe Reynolds was also defeated in a tight race way down near Virginia's southern border.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:01:10
Now, Republicans didn't pick up the five to seven seats that some people were expecting, but they did what they had to do to take full control of Richmond and they're hoping that also means momentum for next year's national elections. Here's what former Governor George Allen who was running for Jim Webb's Senate seat in 2012 says about this week's results.

MR. GEORGE ALLEN

00:01:29
(word?) referendum on President Obama and a referendum on Governor McDonnell and I think most Virginians are much more pleased with a job that Bob McDonnell's doing for jobs in Virginia then all the counterproductive punishing energy policies and higher taxes and redistribution that dictates coming out of Washington with President Obama, Tim Kaine and their allies.

SHEIR

00:01:51
But as you say, Republicans didn't pick up quite as many seats as they were hoping. So maybe the news isn't as bad as it might appear for Democrats?

WILSON

00:01:59
Well, the loss of the Senate is bad news. There's no way around that for Democrats. But some felt they were able to stave off much greater losses despite the significant headwind of an unpopular President and a bad economy. In Northern Virginia, Democrats did well. Republicans had targeted democrats, Dave Marston, Toddy Puller and George Barker, three state Senators from the Fairfax Prince William county area. But all three had fairly comfortable victories. Democratic incumbents running for Fairfax's board of supervisors also, they won as well.

SHEIR

00:02:27
Okay. So what I'm hearing here is Northern Virginia, good for Democrats, everywhere else, good for the GOP?

WILSON

00:02:33
That's a very good summary.

SHEIR

00:02:35
Okay. So let's talk about this 20/20 split in the state senate. You said the lieutenant Governor, a Republican, will be tie breaking vote in the Senate, right?

WILSON

00:02:42
That is correct.

SHEIR

00:02:43
Okay. So then what does that mean for the Democrats ability to push back against Republican proposals?

WILSON

00:02:49
Well, Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly, he was pretty much a cheerleader for local Democrats, he told me, hey, Bill Bolling won't be there for every important vote. But state Senator Dick Saslaw disagrees. He's a Democrat from Fairfax who was easily reelected and currently serves as the majority leader in Richmond. That's going to change. He said, pretty plainly, that he's worried about what kinds of bills certain Republicans are going to push. He even singles out Republican state delegate Bob Marshall from Prince William County.

SENATOR DICK SASLAW

00:03:16
Social issues are everything. A person who had bills, you saw what Bob Marshall said he wants to put in. I mean, that would ban most forms of birth control in the state of Virginia. You know, things like that, that's what you're going to see.

SHEIR

00:03:29
Wow. Sounds like we have an interesting few months ahead in Virginia. I wonder, though, about the governor, Governor Bob McDonnell. If his party controls all the statewide offices and the House and it holds the tie breaking vote in the Senate, that's good news for him, right?

WILSON

00:03:45
Well, the short answer is yes. But the long answer and probably the more accurate one is that it could be good and bad news. I talk with Steven Farnsworth, he's a political scientist and communications professor at George Mason University. He says if Republicans have that 20/20 split and it appears that they have it, with Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling providing a one vote advantage, it could be a tougher atmosphere for McDonnell who's governed from a more centrist position then he did when he was a state Senator himself. Here's Farnsworth explaining why a divided legislature is ideal for a governor who is trying to stake out a centrist philosophy.

MR. STEVEN FARNSWORTH

00:04:19
The truly liberal measures get blocked by one chamber and the truly conservative measures get blocked by the other. And so, if you want to govern as a centrist, the old system where you had a Democratic majority Senate and a Republican majority House is optimal.

WILSON

00:04:32
For that reason, this may be the time where we truly get a sense of what kind of governor Bob McDonnell really wants to be.

SHEIR

00:04:39
And we'll definitely look forward to keeping tabs on all of this when the legislative session gets started in January. Jonathan Wilson, thanks so much for coming in and getting us up to speed on those election results.

WILSON

00:04:49
You're welcome.

SHEIR

00:04:50
We turn now to you, our listeners. Do you have an opinion on the local elections in Virginia and their impact on the Commonwealth? If so, we want to hear it. Send a note to metro@wamu.org.
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