GOP Takes over Virginia Assembly: Takes House for First Time, Keeps Senate

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RICHMOND - Virginia voters yesterday reshaped the state's political landscape for years to come, giving Republicans outright control of the General Assembly for the first time in history.

"Free at last. Free at last. Free at long last. Democracy has finally come to the commonwealth," Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III said last night.

Republican challengers defeated two Democratic incumbents and won two seats vacated by retiring Democrats to take control of the House and also kept control of the Senate.

Party leaders said the victory means voters endorse their work over the last six years: the car-tax cut, abolishing parole and putting more teachers in classrooms. The victory gives the party unfettered power to press its tax-slashing agenda and, with redistricting after the 2000 census, to bolster its influence for a generation.

"We are applying conservative principals to the issues and to everyday concerns of working men and women," Mr. Gilmore said.

Virginia Republicans maintained their majority in the state Senate, winning 21 of the seats in the 40-seat chamber and leading in another Senate race. Eight-term Democratic Sen. Stanley Walker of Norfolk lost his race to Nick Rerras, ensuring that Republicans would do no worse than maintain their 21-19 margin - even if Republican Sen. Jane Woods of Fairfax loses a close race against former Democratic congresswoman Leslie Byrne, as expected.

Republicans won 52 seats in the House to the Democrats 47, according to final, but unofficial, tallies. The lone independent in the House, Lacey Putnam, won his race, too. He usually votes with the Republicans.

It is not just for history's sake that Republicans want to capture the Senate and House of Delegates. Both victories mean they can redraw congressional and state legislative districts to their own satisfaction, after the 2000 census.

Control of the General Assembly, in fact, was foremost in the minds of voters from each party.

One man voting at West Potomac High School in Fairfax County cast his ballot for Ross Bell, the Republican challenging longtime incumbent Democratic Delegate Marian Van Landingham for her Alexandria seat. The man said it wasn't so much the candidates as the prospect of a Republican majority.

"I think the biggest change will be redistricting," he said. "Maybe not so much any one issue, but who's going to control Virginia politics."

"Leadership - you ask for it and the state gave it to us. I don't see a major shift in Virginia. Virginia has always been conservative at heart. We've been talking about it for a 100 years and now the state's giving Republicans a chance. We said we could lead and lead we will," said Sen. John W. Warner.

Elections results came in at a slow pace last night, especially in the state's House races - a tempting prize that Republicans tried with all their might to win after years of trying. …