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What Virginia election results mean for governor, 2016 presidential race


RICHMOND, Virginia — The partisan makeup of Virginia's General Assembly remained virtually unchanged following an election that set spending records.

Candidates, political parties and others plowed through tens of millions of dollars only to wind up back with the status quo, with Republicans holding a firm control of the state House and a one-vote lead in the state Senate. Here's what the Election Day outcome suggests for Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's political future, Virginia's role in the 2016 presidential campaign, and the role of heavy spending outside groups in Virginia.


Virginia's governor raised and spent a lot of money trying to flip control of the state Senate. McAuliffe took advantage of Virginia's limitless campaign finance system to raise money from Democratic mega donors around the country while spending heavily on data-driven voter identification and turnout. His unsuccessful push to flip the Senate reduces his already slim chances of passing legacy-defining legislation during his tenure, said Bob Holsworth, a consultant and retired Virginia Commonwealth University political analyst.

"His legislative agenda is at the sufferance of the Republicans," Holsworth said.

Holsworth noted that the chances of McAuliffe passing some of his top legislative priorities, like Medicaid expansion, with the House in firm GOP control were already slim. And McAuliffe, nearly halfway through his term-limited four year stint, has made clear that he is less interested than some of his predecessors in the legislative process and prefers to spend his time trying to lure businesses to build and expand in Virginia. With little hope for major Democratic-leaning legislative successes, McAuliffe will be free to focus even more on economic development efforts.


Virginia is set to be one of a handful of hotly contested swing states that will determine which party wins the White House in 2016. On Wednesday, both Democrats and Republicans were claiming that the 2015 legislative elections have helped them prepare for next year's contest.

"We feel like last night was a very good night for us," said Ed Gillespie, a likely Republican 2017 gubernatorial candidate, adding that McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats had "suffered a setback" on Tuesday in preparing for the 2016 contest.

Democratic Party of Virginia spokeswoman Morgan Finkelstein said the 2015 Democratic ground game collected valuable data on Virginia's ever-shifting voting population.

"We know a lot more about the electorate because of the amount of money we put into 2015, that will be helpful for 2016," she said.

Voter turnout will likely be significantly higher and the electorate much different next year than it was Tuesday, when unofficial turnout was 26 percent of registered voters.

Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, said Tuesday's results reflect that Virginia continues to be an evenly split state.

"It's going to be a darn close race in 2016," Kidd said.

Outside groups:

Michael Bloomberg's gun control group made a splash at the tail end of the 2015 elections by announcing it was spending $2.2 million in two key open state Senate races to help the Democratic candidates.

Republicans were shocked at the amount the billionaire's group was putting into Virginia, but the spending did not appear to have made any difference, said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

One Bloomberg-backed candidate won in a Northern Virginia district that has voted reliably Democratic by large margins in past elections while the other Democratic nominee lost in pivotal swing-seat in the Richmond area.

"The Bloomberg money bought a whole lot of nothing," he said.

Stacey Radnor, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg's group said "gun safety was a winning factor" in helping Jeremy McPike win the open Northern Virginia seat. And she said the gun-control group's spending helped tighten the Richmond-area seat won by Republicans.

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