By Bre Payton | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
PURCELLVILLE, Va. — The balance of power in the evenly divided Virginia Senate will be tipped by Republicans if they fill Democrat Ralph Northam’s soon-to-be-vacated seat.
Northam, D-Norfolk, who beat out E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor, will leave his Senate post come Inauguration Day, giving Republicans an opportunity to gain control of both houses of the General Assembly.
As lieutenant governor, Northam would be the Senate’s tiebreaker. But if the GOP can flip Northam’s Senate seat — admittedly a longshot in the Democratic southeastern district — they would gain the majority.
Three Republicans are campaigning to succeed Northam in a special election. The date of that election has yet to be set by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The results of a “firehouse” party primary Thursday night will determine which candidate faces Democratic nominee Lynwood Lewis.
A firehouse primary is just like any other primary except it’s run by the party itself, GOP spokesman Garren Shipley explained.
Votes are cast with paper ballots.
“The voting machines are locked up because of the pending [attorney general] recount,” he said.
Lewis has been a state delegate for five terms, after his failed state Senate bid in 1999.
None of the Republican candidates has held public office, and only one has run a legislative race.
John Coggeshall campaigned as an independent in 2005 for the House of Delegates 87th District. He captured 12 percent of the vote, despite being heavily outspent.
He is focusing on saving the Chesapeake Bay, which he plans to accomplish by implementing stricter regulations on the fishing industry and diverting tax dollars to fund its restoration.
Though he is being outspent again in what is being called a two-man race, Coggeshall said that this doesn’t worry him.
The state party will focus its attention and resources on whichever candidate secures the nomination because of the significance of the race, he said.
Wayne Coleman, head of Norfolk-based commercial shipping and freight company CV International Inc., is emphasizing a theme of fiscal responsibility.
As the only businessman among the three candidates, Coleman is the only person who has had to balance budgets, said Coleman spokesman Austin Chambers.
Ironically, Coleman once almost hosted a fundraiser for Northam in 2011.
When Watchdog.org asked about the fundraiser, Chambers said Coleman canceled the event.
“The event was set to take place in his home, then upon further reflection and [after learning that the event] had been turned into a fundraiser, [he realized] this wasn’t about friendships, it was about the future of the country,” Chambers said. “So Wayne canceled that fundraiser, then in 2013 he supported E.W. Jackson.”
Richard Ottinger is dedicated to stopping Medicaid expansion in Virginia, according to his website.
Despite multiple attempts to contact him, Ottinger didn’t respond to comment.
Meantime, Republicans are already taking potshots at Lewis. State GOP Chairman Pat Mullins questioned Lewis’ record on gun rights and gay marriage.
“Have they nominated the Lynwood Lewis who has voted with the NRA, or the Lynwood Lewis who would criminalize transfers of guns inside a family?” Mullins said in a statement. “One thing we can be sure of: whichever Lynwood Lewis they nominated has a consistent record of supporting higher taxes on Virginians.”
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