GLEN ALLEN, Va. (AP) — Republicans have won at least 50 seats in the Virginia House, ensuring at least a tie with Democrats who had fought to retain control.
Several races were still too early to call, but the GOP also declared victory in some of those, with party leaders saying they were confident they had flipped control of the House.
The Republican gains are part of a seismic win for the GOP in Virginia, as Republican businessman Glenn Youngkincaptured the governor’s office, Republican Winsome Searswon the lieutenant governor’s race, and Republican Jason Miyares won the attorney general’s seat.
Youngkin defeated former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sears beat Democrat Hala Ayala and Miyares denied two-time Democratic incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring a third term. Sears will become the state’s first female lieutenant governor and the first woman of color to win statewide office in Virginia.
Tuesday’s election was seen as a referendum on a series of progressive reforms that Democrats have enacted over the past two years, including the repeal of the death penalty, the legalization of marijuana, a loosening of abortion restrictions and a series of police reforms.
Otto Wachsmann, a Republican who defeated Democratic incumbent Roslyn Tyler in the 75th District, said he believes the strong showing by Republicans in part represents a backlash against a Democratic party that he says has moved too far to the left in once-conservative Virginia.
“The average person wasn’t satisfied with that; they were looking for a voice of reason,” Wachsmann said.
Every Republican House incumbent won reelection, including eight whose seats were uncontested. The party flipped at least five Democratic seats, including those in two of the last remaining districts held by Democrats in predominantly rural districts.
A surprise win by Republican Kim Taylor over three-term incumbent Democratic Del. Lashrecse Aird in the 63rd District gave Republicans their 50th seat. Aird claimed victory late Tuesday, but a late surge by Taylor gave her a 741-vote win.
Garren Shipley, a spokesman for House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, said Republicans believe they have flipped several seats in races where vote tallies show the two candidates extremely close, including in District 85 in Virginia Beach, where Democratic Del. Alex Askew was ahead of Republican challenger Karen Greenhalgh by less than 100 votes.
Gilbert said in a statement Wednesday that Republicans believe Greenhalgh has won the race by more than 200 votes.
“We are very confident that there will be 52 Republicans seated when the House convenes in January,” Shipley said.
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn acknowledged that the results were not what Democrats were hoping for but said there are still several tight races “that will determine the majority” as votes continue to be counted. The state Department of Elections has said that ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 will be counted through noon on Friday.
“We are going to make sure every Virginian’s voice is heard and every vote is counted,” Filler-Corn said in a statement.
Democrats held a 55-45 majority heading into Tuesday’s election, but Republicans waged an aggressive campaign to flip up to 13 seats held by Democrats whom they considered vulnerable. The GOP needs to flip at least six seats to regain the majority the party lost in 2019. Democrats still hold a slim 21-19 majority over Republicans in the Senate. Senators are not up for reelection until 2023.
Republicans had controlled the House since 2000, but Democrats won back 15 GOP-held seats in 2017, helped by voter hostility toward then-President Donald Trump. In 2019, Democrats took full control of the legislature by wiping out slim Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
In other tight House races this year, two-term Democratic incumbent Chris Hurst lost to Republican challenger Jason Ballard in the 12th District and first-term Democratic Del. Joshua Cole was defeated by Republican challenger Tara Durant in the 28th District, which includes the city of Fredericksburg and parts of Stafford County.
In District 83, which includes parts of the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Republican challenger Tim Anderson, an attorney and gun shop owner, ousted Democratic incumbent Nancy Guy.
Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.