Republicans defeat gun challenge in Virginia elections

Gov. Terry McAuliffe failed to get his way in Virginia's capital Tuesday night. 

Despite the Democratic governor's personal interventions and a multimillion-dollar spending effort by national Democrats and gun-control lobbyists, Virginia Republicans managed to retain control of the state Senate. In the House of Delegates, McAuliffe's party netted one additional seat, leaving a 66-34 Republican majority. 

The Virginia effort was widely seen as a test case for the Democratic Party's 2016 national game plan to run hard on gun control. An alliance of gun control groups, including Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety, poured nearly $2.5 million in pursuit of legislative positions that pay less than $20,000 a year. Gun control advocates outspent Second Amendment advocates by a factor of nearly five. 

In the House of Delegates, Democrats picked up two seats in vote-rich Fairfax County, while losing an open-seat contest in Prince William County. The net change of one seat to the Democrats means the Republicans no longer have a veto-proof majority in the lower House.

That's small consolation to McAuliffe, who had hoped to reclaim the Senate in an effort to pressure Republicans to compromise on issues such as Medicaid expansion and redistricting.

Instead, McAuliffe indicated in a press release that he may now focus on economic development, where he enjoys broad, bipartisan support.

"I am confident every man and woman elected tonight will come to Richmond ready to join our bipartisan effort to build a new Virginia economy," McAuliffe, a longtime Democratic operative and green energy tycoon, said in the release. 

University of Richmond professor Dan Palazzolo told AMI Newswire that the election results should not be surprising.

"Divided party control of government is normal and it is not fatal to governing," Palazzolo said. "The situation calls for a less partisan approach to governing in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, similar to 2015."

Total spending on Virginia House and Senate races came to less than half of spending in the previous state election cycle: $42 million was spent on General Assembly races this year, down from $87 million in 2011. 

The 2011 contests featured new House and Senate district lines, a result of redistricting following the 2010 census. In that year's elections, the state Senate flipped from a 22-to-18 Democratic majority to a Republican majority of 21-19.

Not so this year, where neither party was able to win a seat held by the other heading into election day.

National groups invested heavily in two high-profile contests, for the 10th and 29th Senate district seats, which have been vacated by, respectively, a retiring Republican and Democrat. But neither seat changed partisan hands. 

Everytown for Gun Safety contributed more than $729,000 to Democrat Dan Gecker, who rolled up a sizable margin in the 10th District's Richmond precincts. But a huge turnout in heavily Republican Powhatan County gave Republican Glenn Sturtevant a 1,494-vote margin of victory.

In the 29th District, Democrat Jeremy McPike defeated Republican Hal Parrish 54 percent to 46 percent. Bloomberg's gun control group donated more than $1.6 million in in-kind contributions to McPike, one of the largest individual donations to a state Senate campaign in Virginia history.

In an unusual move, the Democratic Party of Virginia's communications staff seemed to throw in the towel before the polls closed.  The  party released a memo Tuesday morning claiming that gerrymandered House and Senate districts, an off-year electorate more friendly to Republicans, and "outside cash dumps" were keeping the Democrats from victory.

"That Democrats are competitive at all," the memo said, "not to mention may ultimately win in these seats is a huge gain for the party this year."