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VA Senate Democrats: Holding on may be hard to do

Thanks to its off-year election cycle Virginia almost never has a year without an election.  Most of us don’t give it that much thought.  But Virginia Democrats, following resounding defeats in 2009 and again in 2010 probably wish they could get a break from the electoral cycle.  But that’s not the way the system works.  In 2011, they will be defending their majority in the State Senate and given the current national climate, that’s not going to be easy.    
Democrats currently hold 23 out of 40 seats in the State Senate.  The House of Delegates will also be up, but with Democratic representation down to 39 seats, and few if any vulnerable Republicans, that number isn’t likely to change significantly.  However, the Senate is another story.  There are at least seven seats in the State Senate that may be vulnerable.  These run the gamut from first-term Senators to some of the longest serving Democratic members.

Several seats won by Democrats during the crest of the party’s success in 2007 are considered strong prospects for the GOP in 2011.  The Tidewater seat held by Senator John Miller, a former broadcaster, is considered a strong prospect for a switch.  Miller defeated a relatively weak GOP opponent in what is normally a strong Republican area.  Another prospect is the Fairfax seat held by Chap Peterson.  This isn’t as vulnerable a seat as some, but this senate district has changed hands in each of the past three elections.  Peterson will have to work hard to keep it.
Senator George Barker, a Democrat who narrowly won a Senate seat in one of Northern Virginia’s most Republican districts is considered particularly vulnerable.  The same is true in the 33rd district currently held by Democratic Senator Mark Herring.  His senate seat includes western Fairfax and Loudon County.  Given the Republican tilt of this area in the 2009 and 2010 elections, it’s likely that this will also be a difficult one for the Democrats to hold.
Just as was the case in the national election there are several long-time Democratic members who could be in trouble.  They represent relatively conservative parts of the state where they are personally popular.  However, if it’s a bad year for the Democrats, their individual following may not be enough to save them.  
The Democratic Gubernatorial standard bearer in 2009, Senator Creigh Deeds, whose district runs from Charlottesville to Alleghany County, is considered a possible Republican pickup.  Also, the southern Fairfax and Prince William seat held by Toddy Puller, electorally a relatively conservative region of Northern Virginia, could be another seat that’s in play.  And then there is the Senate’s most senior Democrat Chuck Colgan.  Colgan’s seat has gotten progressively competitive over the years, and if there is a strong Republican tide, he may not be able to hang on.  A GOP win in any of these seats would represent a major upset.  But if the wave produced in 2009 and 2010 carries into 2011, these senior Senate Democrats will all likely face competitive races.    
Redistricting, due to occur later this year, will also be a factor.  However, in this redistricting cycle, the Democrats, with control of the Senate, are in a better position than they were ten years ago when they were a minority in both Houses..  Many in Richmond speculate that Senate redistricting will be a gentleman’s agreement that while adjusting the lines for population shifts would more or less try to protect Senate incumbents.  But, the protection afforded by this kind boundary line drawing can only go so far.   
If the trends during the past two years are repeated in 2011, Democrats could easily lose their majority in the Senate.   However, the 2011 election, unlike 2010 and 2009 is an off-year election.  Turnout will be low.  Also, in 2009, there was a statewide contest, and in 2010 there were four House races in play.  The challenge for the GOP will be to transfer some this energy and get their base and motivated independents out to vote.
You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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