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Thursday November 23rd, 2017 5:10PM

Virginia Democrats make huge gains, could take over House

By The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democrats nearly wiped out Republicans' overwhelming majority in the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday, with a handful of races that will decide control of the body remaining too close to call.

Democrats picked up at least 13 of the 17 seats they would need to retake the chamber for the first time in two decades.

"It really is an unprecedented result we're seeing," House Democratic Caucus Leader David Toscano said. The last time Democrats picked up more than five seats was 1975, according to Toscano.

This election season, where all 100 seats were up for grabs, saw Democrats make their most energetic push in years to gain ground against Republicans. Sixty of the 100 seats were contested by candidates of both major parties, more than in any year for at least two decades.

The House gains were part of a stellar night for Democrats, who swept all three statewide races. Democrat Ralph Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie in the governor's race by nearly 9 points.

Together, the outcomes will be seen as an overwhelming victory for those opposed to President Donald Trump and as a potential predictor for next year's midterm election, when control of Congress and many more statehouses will be up for grabs.

Heading into Tuesday, Democrats said they were confident, but many analysts expected them to pick up no more than a handful of seats.

Republicans maintained throughout the campaign season that they would hold their majority. Their years in power helped them build up a significant cash advantage, and they argued that voters in local races care about local issues — not what's going on in Washington.

"Obviously, tonight was a difficult night and the outcome is not what anyone expected," Matt Moran, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said in a statement Tuesday night.

It wasn't immediately clear how long it would be before the results are known. Seven seats were too close to call late Tuesday. Many of those could be subject to recounts if candidates choose to request them.

In one race, only 12 votes separated Republican Del. David Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds.

Among Democrats' influx of candidates this year were a record 43 women, many of whom said they were inspired by Hillary Clinton's defeat to jump into politics for the first time.

One of the Democratic newcomers will be Danica Roem, a transgender woman who unseated Bob Marshall, one of the chamber's longest serving and most conservative members. Earlier this year, Marshall sponsored a bill that would have limited the bathrooms transgender people can use.

Roem will be Virginia's first openly transgender lawmaker. She will also make history as the first openly transgender person elected and seated in a state legislature, according to the Victory Fund, a political action committee that works to get openly LGBTQ people elected.

Several other Democratic women also made history Tuesday night: Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman will be the chamber's first Latina members, and Kathy Tran will be its first female Asian-American member.

In the Blacksburg area, Chris Hurst, a former Virginia news anchor whose journalist girlfriend was fatally shot during a live broadcast in 2015, defeated a Republican incumbent. After the shooting, Hurst became the public face of the grieving Roanoke station.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring said the pickups will change the tenor of the chamber, even if it doesn't flip to Democratic control. It will give Democrats more seats on committees and put issues like Medicaid expansion into play, she said.

"I told Ralph I am jealous" of the legislature he will get to work with, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said.

___

Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat in Fairfax contributed to this report.

___

This story has been updated to correct that Tran will be the chamber's first female Asian-American member.

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