Va. GOP May Capture Senate; Revive Prayer, Abortion Bills

Virginia residents have just hours left to register to vote in the upcoming state election, where the Republican Party hopes to capture at least three seats to gain control of the traditionally Democratic chamber.

Should Republicans gain at least three more Senate seats during the Nov. 8 election, they could potentially revive conservative bills on prayers in public and granting legal rights to fetuses, which would essentially end abortion in the state. Previously, such proposed bills had been killed by the Democratic-controlled state senate.

“This time, if we take a majority, it would be a much more conservative group of individuals than the Republicans who were there before, and people would just have to realize that,” said Del. Charles W. Carrico, a Republican candidate seeking to replace retiring Sen. William Wampler (R-Bristol), according to The Associated Press.

Republican state House delegates have proposed such socially conservative bills as making it a crime for a woman to bring about her own miscarriage, protecting prayer at public areas and events, and mandating that physicians offer to anesthetize a fetus before carrying out an abortion. Despite passing the House, these bills were all immediately shot down in the Democrat-controlled state Senate.

Currently, state Democrats have 22 of the Senate’s 40 seats. All 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election on Nov. 8, 2011.

The GOP has focused on heavily Democratic northern Virginia, where some seats held by the Democratic Party are considered at risk.

In the 39th State Senate District, Democratic incumbent Senator George Barker is being challenged by Republican hopeful Miller Baker, who worked as a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department.

Sen. Barker narrowly won election back in 2007 and some political commentators believe his seat is vulnerable this year in part because of the redistricting done earlier this year.

Democrat Barbara Favola and Republican Caren Merrick are vying for the 31st State Senate District seat that was vacated when Democrat Senator Mary Margaret Whipple retired. Favola won a divisive Democratic Primary in which vicious personal attacks were leveled by both sides. By contrast, Merrick has strong support from her party.

Although some seats in Democratically-dominated Northern Virginia are at risk, many are secured. For example, Delegates David Englin and Charniele Herring are running unopposed.

Since 2008, when Virginia supported then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the presidential election, Republicans have been gradually striking back at Democratic power in the Commonwealth.

In 2009, Republicans took the executive branch when Robert F. McDonnell became governor and Kenneth Cuccinelli became the state’s attorney general.

In the 2010 nationwide Congressional elections, Republicans gained three Congressional Districts, giving them a total of eight of Virginia’s 11 seats in the House of Representatives.

Virginia Republicans hope to continue this momentum, aided in part by high statewide approval ratings for Gov. McDonnell and decreasing approval ratings for President Obama.

If successful in taking back the state Senate, Republicans would control both the executive and legislative branches of Virginia’s government for the first time since 2001.

According to Virginia law, an eligible voter must be at least 18 years old, a resident of Virginia, a U.S. citizen, not registered and planning to vote in another state, and not currently declared mentally incompetent by a court of law.