Democrat Joshua Cole defeated Republican Paul Milde in the 28th District House race Tuesday, helping his party gain control of Virginia’s statehouse, according to a complete but unofficial tally by the state.
According to the State Board of Elections, Cole garnered 13,325 votes to 12,289 for Milde. The former Stafford supervisor edged his Democratic opponent by about 350 votes in Stafford, but Cole captured more than 70 percent of the vote in Fredericksburg to gain the victory.
“I’m speechless at this point; it’s surreal,” Cole said during his victory celebration at Tapa Rio restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg. “It still doesn’t feel real yet. I’m super excited. There’s a lot of work to do in Stafford County and in the city.”
He is the first Democrat to win the 28th District seat since 1982 and it was one of at least five seats added by the Democrats across Virginia Tuesday, giving the party control of the House of Delegates. Democrats also appear to have taken control of the state Senate by one seat.
The other legislative seats in the Fredericksburg area remained unchanged, with incumbents of both parties holding off challengers to win re-election.
Cole said his first order of business will include meeting with the Chamber of Commerce and the teachers union, and that it should be easier to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and expand Medicaid now that Democrats control the House.
“There’s some old-school Democrats we’re dealing with,” he said, “but we’ll still be able to get some progressive change in there.”
After the results of the election were published, Milde texted that he was “proud of the massive turnout of the citizens of the community who came out on all sides to express their views at the ballot box.”
“Josh Cole ran a strong race and is running strong,” he wrote. “There are a number of discrepancies in election result report numbers and the matter of ballot errors; therefore, I will wait for the morning for clarification.”
Tuesday’s elections, in which all 140 seats in the General Assembly were on the ballot, were the most-watched and most expensive Virginia legislative races in years. They were the only elections in the country where control of the legislature was at stake, and were seen as a potential bellwether that could indicate how much momentum Democrats have managed to keep since the midterms in 2018—and provide a window into what to expect in 2020.
Democrats’ takeover of both the House and the Senate for the first time in years shows that Republicans will need to retool if they want to be more competitive with suburban voters, said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington.
“The messaging that Republicans used 10 years ago doesn’t work nearly as effectively in the more diverse Virginia of today,” he said. “Think about gun control. Republicans were out of step and they paid a price for it.”
He said that he thinks the Democrats will hold votes on the minimum wage, gun control and the Equal Rights Amendment when the General Assembly meets in January. But that doesn’t mean Virginia has suddenly become as liberal as states such as Massachusetts because the party will have only a narrow majority and Gov. Ralph Northam is a centrist.
“There will be a different conversation in Virginia, and some of the more activist Democrats won’t get as much out of this election as they would have hoped,” Farnsworth said.
Republican incumbents in other districts in the Fredericksburg region easily won re-election.
They included Del. Mark Cole, 61, who defeated first-time candidate Jessica Foster, a 38-year-old lawyer, to retain the seat in the 88th House District representing parts of Fredericksburg and Fauquier, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. He said that he thought the Republicans had lost the Senate, but he was hoping his party could still capture some close House races when contacted around 10 p.m. during his victory celebration at Renato’s in Fredericksburg.
The incumbent, who was first elected in 2002, said winning both the House and the Senate would mean fewer jobs, more taxes and higher electric bills for Virginians since the Democrats will try to pass Virginia’s version of the Green New Deal.
In the District 17 state Senate race, incumbent Bryce Reeves held off challenger Amy Laufer, a 47-year-old former schoolteacher. The 52-year-old Reeves, who took more than 51 percent of the votes, will serve his third term.
“I am beyond humbled by the support we received during this campaign and for that I am truly grateful,” Reeves said in a release Tuesday night.
Reeves, of Spotsylvania, is a former police officer and Army Ranger who owns a State Farm Insurance franchise. He supports small government, gun rights and has sponsored many pro-military and business bills. He first won his seat in 2011, and has since run an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.
Reeves said he “will continue to work hard to defend our rights, protect the vulnerable, lower taxes, and ensure the well-being of our military and veterans.”
Laufer has taught middle school and served on the Charlottesville School Board. She ran a campaign focused on health care, education, broadband expansion and the Equal Rights Amendment. The district includes Fredericksburg and Orange County, along with parts of Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Louisa and Albemarle counties.
Republican Sen. Richard Stuart, a 55-year-old lawyer who grew up in Montross in Virginia’s Northern Neck, beat Qasim Rashid, a 37-year-old Democratic challenger who immigrated to the United States as a child from Pakistan, to win re-election in the 28th Senate District, which covers parts of Spotsylvania, Stafford, Prince William, Westmoreland and King George counties.
“I am really honored and humbled with the people’s trust in my re-election and I will continue to work as hard as I can to make our lives better in the community,” he said. “I’ll immediately start meeting with constituents with problems that need to get fixed, and draft the necessary legislation.”
Stuart cited transportation, education and health care as three important issues he will continue working.
In other races, first-term Democratic Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy beat political newcomer Heather Mitchell for the House seat in Virginia’s 2nd District, which stretches from the northern boundary of Prince William County in the area east of U.S. 1 and includes much of North Stafford, including the Widewater area.
Del. Bobby Orrock, who has represented the 54th District since 1990, defeated Democrat challenger Neri Canahui–Ortiz, who was running for public office for the first time, with nearly 60 percent of the votes. The 54th District covers parts of Caroline and Spotsylvania counties.
Incumbent Republican and retired businessman Buddy Fowler beat Democrat Morgan Goodman, an environmental specialist at the Virginia Department for Environmental Quality, in a repeat of the race two years ago in the 55th District. It includes the western section of Hanover County, most of Caroline County’s southwestern half and the southeastern corner of Spotsylvania County.
Republican businesswoman Margaret Ransone trounced Democrat Francis Edwards in their second matchup to represent the 99th House District, which is mostly in the Northern Neck. Edwards, a former the CEO of QVC in Germany, also lost when he ran against her in 2017. The 99th District includes part of Caroline County and the counties of King George, Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond and Westmoreland.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Ryan McDougle defeated Democrat Stan Scott, an Army veteran and small business owner, for Virginia’s 4th District Senate seat. It includes all of Caroline, Essex, Richmond, Northumberland, Lancaster and Middlesex counties, as well as parts of Hanover, Spotsylvania, King George and Westmoreland counties.
Three-term state Sen. Jill Vogel defeated challenger Ronnie Ross III for Virginia’s 27th Senate District, which includes parts of Stafford, Loudoun and Culpeper counties, plus all of Fauquier, Frederick and Clarke counties and the city of Winchester.
Staff reporters James Scott Baron and Scott Shenk contributed to this article.