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On opening day of General Assembly, election battle rages on Eastern Shore

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and, inch by inch, Republicans are slipping toward irrelevance in the Virginia Senate.

Assuming his tenuous 10-vote lead holds up after a canvass and recount, “Landslide” Lynwood Lewis will keep the Eastern Shore’s 6th District Democratic. If Democrats win the Jan. 21 special election to retain Attorney General Mark Herring’s seat in District 33, they will take effective control of the Senate.

That scenario means Richmond will look a lot likeWashington, D.C.: Democrats in charge of the executive branch and the Senate while Republicans hold the House.

Whether Senate Democratic leader Dick Saslaw behaves like Harry Reid and Terry McAuliffe governs like Barack Obama cannot be known. But the prospects for political gridlock are obvious, Watchdog.org reported on Wednesday, the opening day of the 2014 General Assembly.

After four years of being voted down (mostly) by GOP Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Senate Democrats would hold the tie-breaking vote with incoming LG Ralph Northam serving as the body’s president.

To cite just one policy difference, Virginia would not have a photo-ID voting law today if Democrats had their way last year.

Saslaw & Co. signaled they’re ready to put their stamp on ethics “reform” by anointing hyper-partisan Sen. Janet Howell to head the Privileges and Elections Committee, which handles such matters. Howell (Virginia’s Dick Durbin?) created ethics problems of her own last year when she threatened – in writing – to retaliate against a business group for endorsing McAuliffe’s Republican opponent.

A key Senate Democrat has already skewered a bipartisan House ethics bill as riddled with loopholes.

So, if Lewis prevails in an inevitable recount, and Democrat Jennifer Wexton defeats Republican John Whitbeck and Republican-turned-independent Joe May in the Fairfax-Loudoun district election later this month, the stage is set for legislative battle.

Will the House, with a super-majority under the leadership of Speaker Bill Howell, stand as a bulwark against the multibillion-dollar tax-and-spend agenda McAuliffe campaigned on? In light of the General Assembly’s passage of outgoing GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell’s massive transportation tax increase last session, it’s an open question.

Political gridlock may be the best Virginia taxpayers can hope for in 2014.

Geoffrey Skelley, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, called Lewis’ narrow margin of victory “surprising.”

“Delegate Lewis is an experienced politician who was facing off against a political newcomer. Given that he represented part of the Senate district in the House of Delegates, you would expect that might have made it easier for him,” Skelley told Watchdog.

The district, which includes the northern tip of Norfolk, went for Obama by a 57-42 margin in 2012. But Lewis’ 0.1 percent margin shrank by 12 votes Wednesday during a canvass. Meantime, an undetermined number of provisional ballots has yet to be counted.

Read the full story here.