Democrat Lynwood Lewis, senator no. 20
It's official: Democrats have regained control of the Virginia state Senate! Because Democratic Del. Lynwood Lewis managed to hang on in an incredibly tight recount
, the man whose seat he filled, newly elected Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, will be able to break ties in favor of the Democrats in the evenly divided Senate.
It's a bona fide flip, adding to the eight chambers Democrats took back in 2012, and it also gives Gov. Terry McAuliffe much more leverage when dealing with Republicans, who still control the state House. Think about it this way: How much better off is President Obama with a Democratic Senate? The prospect of a Majority Leader Mitch McConnell teaming up with House Speaker John Boehner is a chilling one indeed.
It's remarkable turnabout from just a few years ago. Recently indicted former Gov. Bob McDonnell rolled into office in 2009, presaging the GOP wave of the following year. Then in 2011, Democrats lost two state Senate seats, leading to the present 20-20 split. The Republican lieutenant governor at the time broke ties in favor of his own party, of course, allowing conservatives to go on a rampage. Remember transvaginal ultrasounds?
Some analysts thought it might be a long time before Democrats could retake the Senate, but it only wound up taking two years. The chamber wasn't actually up for re-election in November, but it wasn't simply a matter of winning the race for lieutenant governor. Northam was victorious (over the notorious E.W. Jackson), but Democrats then had to hold his seat, along with that of the new attorney general, Mark Herring, another former state senator.
Democrats defended Herring's seat with relative ease, but Lewis prevailed by just nine votes over Republican Wayne Coleman. In the recount, that widened to 11 votes, earning him the sobriquet "Landslide Lewis." More importantly, he's senator number 20 for Democrats, who are incredibly lucky that just a handful of votes didn't go the other way. And this is no pro forma victory: McAuliffe, who was just elected last November, ran for office on an explicitly liberal platform, so he'll need all the firepower he can muster to advance his agenda.
Lewis' election is yet another reminder of just how much every vote counts. And since Democrats will already have to defend their slimmest of majorities next year, it's something no one should forget.