Key Election Could Land Virginia in the History Books GOP Sweep of Legislature Would Be First in South since Reconstruction Series: Sandy Liddy Bourne (L.) Is Advised from Son Daniel, Daughter Rebecca, and Husband, Bryan, before Opening Her Campaign Headquarters in August. She Is Running against Two-Term Republican Linda 'Toddy' Puller., TYLER MALLORY/AP

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VIRGINIA has never shied from the political spotlight.

The birthplace of many Founding Fathers and now headquarters of Christian activists, the Old Dominion is beckoning once again at the history books: Next month, it could become the first Southern state since Reconstruction to elect a Republican majority to both houses of its legislature.

The shift would represent the latest step in a political realignment toward the GOP that has transformed the South. It would also be seen as a continuation of the 1994 Republican electoral sweep that rocked the US Congress and brought new Republican majorities to 19 state legislative chambers around the country.

In this off-off election year, Virginia is one of only five states that will elect its legislature Nov. 7 - and the one with the most, politically, at stake. The Democrats currently hold slim majorities in both houses, majorities that were large 25 years ago and have steadily shrunk with each election.

Mindful of the vote's symbolic significance, both national parties are funneling money into the Virginia elections, though neither will reveal exact figures for the state.

"We have put a significant priority on state legislative races," says GOP chairman Haley Barbour. "In the last year we've put more than $2 million toward legislative races where we thought we had a chance of winning new majorities."

Gov. George Allen, a conservative Republican, is keenly interested in waving goodbye to the state Democratic leaders he has battled and gaining GOP allies to aid his Newt Gingrich-style revolution. Since Governor Allen is legally prohibited from running for reelection, he has only the next two years to get his agenda through the legislature.

In some ways, the Virginia campaign mirrors the national debate. Key issues are welfare, taxes, education, and guns. Political pundits - many of them in and around neighboring Washington - will comb the Virginia results for clues to the '96 elections and insights into how the GOP revolution is faring.

But Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, cautions against overreaching. "It's silly to call Virginia a bellwether," he says.

"If the Democrats hold on," he says, "it's because, historically, 95 percent of incumbents are reelected.... But a Republican takeover {in Virginia} is inevitable, whether it's in 1995 or '97 or '99."

Professor Sabato adds that Virginia politics shouldn't be viewed in a completely Southern context. …


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