Recount in 2 House races portends change in political dynamics

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/18/2021, 6 p.m.
Two Hampton Roads-area Democrats are holding on to long-shot hopes that recounts will keep them in the House of Delegates …

Two Hampton Roads-area Democrats are holding on to long-shot hopes that recounts will keep them in the House of Delegates — and prevent a full Republican takeover of the General Assembly’s lower chamber.

Delegates Alex Q. Askew of Virginia Beach and Martha M. Mugler of Hampton have no plans to concede before a recount in their districts, given the closeness of election with their Re- publican opponents.

The prospect of the vote totals in either race changing significantly in a recount is considered unlikely based on past history.

Five other incumbent Democrats conceded after Nov. 2 losses, including three members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus — Lashrecse D. Aird of Petersburg, Joshua G. Cole of Fredericksburg and Roslyn C. Tyler of Sussex County.

The VLBS benefited, though, from two Black Democrats winning seats in Manassas and Portsmouth.

Democratic incumbents Nancy D. Guy of Virginia Beach and Chris L. Hurst of the Blacksburg area also were upset in the Nov. 2 elections.

If Delegates Askew’s and Mugler’s losses are confirmed, Republicans would hold a 52-48 seat majority in the House of Delegates in the new General Assembly session that starts in January.

The Virginia Board of Elections certified the election results on Monday, clearing the way for the two delegates to go to court for recounts.

Fully confident of regaining the House majority, Republican House members have tapped their current minority leader, Delegate C. Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County, to take the top House post of speaker to replace current Democratic House

Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax County, the first woman in Virginia history to hold the post.

Delegate Gilbert became the Republican Caucus’ choice for speaker after Delegate Terry G. Kilgore of Scott County pulled back from a challenge and accepted the No. 2 post of House majority leader.

Republican confidence that they will have control of the House reflects recounts through the years that have upheld results even when fewer than 25 votes have separated the winner from the loser. Recounts are supervised by courts, and rare and unusual mistakes would need to be uncovered to shift the results.

At this point, Delegate Askew, also a member of the VLBC, trails the apparent victor, Republican newcomer Karen S. Green- halgh, by 127 votes in the 85th House District, which comprises a portion of Virginia Beach.

Ms. Greenhalgh finished with 14,270 votes, or 50.17 percent, to Delegate Askew’s 14,143 votes, or 49.73 percent, according to the state Department of Elections. The difference is 0.043, or just under the margin of 0.05 percent that allows for a state-paid recount.

The difference is even closer in Delegate Mugler’s contest in the 91st House District, which includes Poquoson and portions of Hampton and York County. She trails Republican challenger A.C. Cordoza by 94 votes, or 0.033 percent, also allowing for a state-paid recount.

Mr. Cordoza received 13,741 votes, or 49.36 percent, to Delegate Mugler’s tally of 13,647 votes or 49.03 percent, according to the state Department of Elections.

Delegate Mugler initially conceded the race, but later withdrew her concession after the closeness of the votes indicated that a state-paid recount could take place.

Speaker Filler-Corn, like the two candidates, called it important to ensure that “every vote is counted.” She won a vote of confidence from the Democratic Caucus and will serve as House Minority Leader in January if Democrats lose control of the chamber.

The speaker initially had indicated the GOP had won the House, but the possibility that the two recounts could create a 50-50 tie has led her to take a wait-and-see approach. If Democrats hold on to the two seats, then a power-sharing arrangement would need to be worked out in the House that would be split evenly between the two parties.

With those two seats likely to remain unsettled into December, Republicans now hold 50 seats and Democrats 48.

The VLBC, which went into the Nov. 2 elections holding 19 seats in the House and four in the Senate, is on track to hold 17 House seats in the new session as a result of the two wins, according to Henrico Delegate Lamont Bagby, chairman of the VLBC.

One newcomer will be Nadarius E. Clark, 26, who is set to become the youngest House member and the first Black representative for the 79th House District. Mr. Clark ousted a white Democrat in the June primary and then won the general election in the district that includes Portsmouth and portions of Norfolk and Chesapeake.

The second is Michelle E. Lopes-Maldonado in the 50th House District. A leadership development and training consultant, Ms. Lopes-Maldonado also ousted the white incumbent in the June Democratic primary. She then won outright against her GOP rival in the general election contest for the seat that includes Manassas and parts of Prince William County.