GLEN ALLEN, Va. (AP) — Democrats and Republicans were locked in a battle for control of the Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday, with a handful of competitive races still too early to call.
Democrats held a 55-45 majority heading into Tuesday’s election, but Republicans waged an aggressive campaign to flip up to 13 seats held by Democrats whom they considered vulnerable. The GOP needs to flip at least six seats to regain the majority the party lost in 2019.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert issued a statement early Wednesday, saying Republicans have “clearly won six seats previously held by Democrats,” giving Republicans the majority. Four of the six seats Gilbert cited had not been called by The Associated Press as of early Wednesday.
Sigalle Reshef, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, said the outcome was still unclear. “There are still more votes to be counted, which is why there’s a process to make sure the numbers are reflected accurately and the voters have their voices heard,” Reshef said.
Chris Hurst, a two-term Democratic incumbent who entered politics after his girlfriend was fatally shot while conducting an interview on live TV, was easily defeated by Republican challenger Jason Ballard, an attorney, Army veteran and member of the Pearisburg Town Council. During the campaign, Ballard depicted Hurst as anti-law enforcement for voting for a failed bill that called for eliminating qualified immunity for police officers.
In another largely rural district, GOP challenger Otto Wachsmann defeated longtime Del. Roslyn Tyler. The race was a rematch of 2019, when Waschmann lost by just 506 votes.
In other competitive races, first-term Democratic Del. Joshua Cole was battling Republican challenger Tara Durant in the 28th District, which includes the city of Fredericksburg and parts of Stafford County.
In District 83, which includes parts of the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Republican challenger Tim Anderson, an attorney and gunshop owner, was leading Democratic incumbent Nancy Guy.
Democratic incumbents held on to their seats in several other closely watched contests.
In District 72, just outside Richmond, two-term Democratic incumbent Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg fought back a GOP challenger, Christopher Holmes, as did Del. Rodney Willett in the 73rd District.
Democrat Dan Helmer held on to his seat in District 40, easily defeating Republican Harold Pyon, a former employee of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with strong ties to the Korean American community in northern Virginia.
Republicans had controlled the House since 2000, but Democrats won back 15 GOP-held seats in 2017, helped by voter hostility toward then-President Donald Trump. In 2019, Democrats took full control of the legislature by wiping out slim Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
Republicans criticized a series of progressive policies promoted by Democrats to try to convince voters that Virginia has moved too far to the left, including the repeal of the death penalty, the legalization of marijuana, a loosening of abortion restrictions. and a series of police reforms.
In television ads, Republicans attempted to depict Democrats as radical liberals who have swung once-conservative Virginia too far to the left.
Jurisdictions throughout the state reported that turnout Tuesday, in combination with early voting, was set to exceed turnout in 2017. Statewide turnout that year approached 48%, a high number for an off-year gubernatorial election. The turnout in 2017 was in part a backlash to Trump’s 2016 election. Democrats swept all three statewide elections in 2017.
Democrats now hold a narrow 21-19 majority in the Senate, where members aren’t up for reelection until 2023.
Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.