VIRGINIA BEACH — Voters on Tuesday, Nov. 7, chose state Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, to return in the 81st House District, but he said it was a bittersweet victory as other Virginia Republicans fell — including at least one in Virginia Beach, usually a GOP stronghold.
Backlash to the divisive rise of President Trump may be to blame.
“It’s a Trump wave,” Knight said during an interview late Tuesday.
Knight, a farmer who lives in Back Bay, thanked voters, referring to them repeatedly as neighbors rather than constituents. He represents a horseshoe-shaped district that has a thick band just above Virginia’s border with North Carolina that includes sizable rural sections of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
“I just want to tell the voters I’m totally humbled they decided to send me back,” Knight said. “All I want to do is represent my neighbors to the best of my ability.”
Knight defeated Democrat Kimberly Anne Tucker, his first major party opposition since he first won office in 2009. He noted that the success of Democrats elsewhere in the region and across Virginia was a message.
“This is a night that nobody saw coming,” Knight said.
The scope of damage to the GOP in legislative races around the commonwealth was great enough to signal a major power shift in the legislature when all races are finalized, though the Republicans still control the Virginia Senate. Democrats also took statewide positions on the ballot, including the governor’s office.
Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, presently Virginia’s lieutenant governor, won the state with a wider-than-anticipated margin over Republican Ed Gillespie, a lobbyist. Northam even won over 51.9 percent of Virginia Beach voters, according to unofficial returns. Trump had this to say via Twitter: “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”
Judging only from unofficial returns, it was difficult to know the coming makeup of the Virginia House of Delegates just yet. The Washington Post reported Democrats have gained at least 15 seats, including flipping 12 seats from red to blue. Other races would still be subject to recount. [Ed. — This story was updated at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 8, to reflect revised numbers reported by The Post.]
The Richmond Times-Dispatch called the result a “tsunami” and noted that the Democrats could take control of the house, erasing a 32-seat Republican advantage coming into the election. The Post called it “the most sweeping shift in control of the legislature since the Watergate era.”
Knight noted that it was possible there may be a 50-50 split in the house, meaning power sharing.
“We’re almost in uncharted territory,” Knight said.
“We’ll work with whoever’s there,” he added, speaking about members of the local delegation to the Virginia General Assembly. “We’re going to work for Hampton Roads.”
Knight, who first won office in 2009, defeated Tucker, a retired educator from Seatack, in her first run for public office. Knight won just under 60 percent of the vote to 40.1 percent won by Tucker, according to unofficial returns posted online by the state elections department.
In the wake of Trump’s victory this past year, local Democrats had worked to find candidates to challenge seats throughout Virginia Beach, as the party had sought to do across Virginia. Tucker said in an interview on Tuesday that she would remain active in local politics and may run for office again. She said she would work to help find additional candidates to run in future campaigns.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Tucker said. “I got to talk to voters from the entire spectrum. Even though we didn’t win, we made progress flipping some precincts. I feel that when we don’t challenge seats, incumbents feel that they have a blank check.”
For Democrats, she said, this election was one of making progress.
“I think, with the number of challengers we had, we tilled the earth a little bit,” she said.
Among the other two legislative districts within The Independent News’ coverage area — generally, southern Virginia Beach — state Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, held off a challenge by the Rev. Dr. Veronica Coleman, a Democrat and pastor, in the 84th House District.
Davis was coming off an unsuccessful run to be the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor. The GOP nominee to that office, state Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier, ultimately lost to Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney who became the second African American elected to the office of lieutenant governor.
And Democrat Kelly Fowler, a real estate agent making her first run for public office, toppled state Del. Ron Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, in the 21st House District. Villanueva, like Davis, served formerly on the Virginia Beach City Council. The 21st has been more receptive to Democrats in recent elections than other local legislative districts, according to data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.
Four of the five constitutional offices in Virginia Beach were on the ballot on Tuesday, and voters returned all of the incumbents to office.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle and Commissioner of the Revenue Phil Kellam, both of whom ran unopposed, will return. Stolle is a Republican and Kellam a Democrat, though ballots here do not disclose such political distinctions for constitutional offices.
Sheriff Ken Stolle defeated challenger John Bell, a retired Virginia Beach deputy police chief, and long-serving Treasurer John Atkinson held off two challengers, Susan Hippen and Kim Bentley II.
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC