Virginia Democrats have their ticket for the 2013 general election, but they could run the risk of losing the state senate should Sens. Ralph Northam and Mark Herring become lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Northam (D-Norfolk) and Herring (D-Loudoun) won their races in last week’s Democratic Primary Election to become the Democratic nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively. They’ll join former Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe on the ticket in November.
“The good news for the democrats is that these two candidates are both experienced campaigners,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “They have won state senate races in districts that are not all that friendly to Democrats and that experience will be very helpful for the ticket.”
But Democrats rejoicing over their nomination may have to take the news with a grain of salt – if both Northam and Herring are elected, special elections must be held for their senate seats.
Why does it matter? With a state senate tied 20-20, the lieutenant governor would have the tiebreaking vote on what legislation goes to the governor’s desk.
But if the Democrats were to lose one or both of those seats, the tiebreaking vote would be rendered useless.
And those are races Republican candidates could have a decent chance of winning, Farnsworth said.
Northam took 54 percent of the vote to Republican incumbent Nick Rerras’ 46 percent during the 2007 midterm election to win Virginia’s sixth state senate district.
Herring also defeated a Republican challenger, Patricia Phillips, during the 2007 election, winning 57 percent of the vote to her 43 percent.
But both districts are areas Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell carried during the 2009 general election.
“With a strong Republican candidate, as well as the likely small turnout for a special election the Democrats are going to have to work very hard to keep one or both of these seats if that’s what they end up having to do,” Farnsworth said.
Northam’s past experience in office could also help him against his Republican opponent, Chesapeake pastor E.W. Jackson.
Jackson has no history in public office and lost to George Allen in the 2012 primary election for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. His appeal could be further muddled by a string of controversial statements he’s made in the past, which came to light after Jackson won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor during the party’s May convention.
“There’s no question he has an enthusiastic following, but there is a serious question about how his record will translate into statewide appeal,” Farnsworth said of Jackson.
It should be noted that Herring's Republican opponent, Mark Obenshain is also a member of the state senate in Harrisonburg's 26th District. Obenshain has had wide margins of victory in elections since he won the seat in 2003. In 2009, he took 70 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Maxine Roles.
Should Northam and Herring get elected, Virginians can expect the special elections to get a great deal of attention and even more money.
“Right now, the money for a race for the House of Delegates might be competing with money going into statewide race,” Farnsworth said. “But in a special election for a vacancy, it’ll be the only game in town.”