(CNSNews.com) - "Free at last, free at last, free at long last!" exulted Virginia Governor James Gilmore III as Republicans took control of the Virginia House of Delegates in Tuesday's election, giving the GOP control of the entire state legislature for the first time in history.
The GOP win puts the Republican Party in the driver's seat for the congressional redistricting that will follow the 2000 census, and it also signifies a victory for Governor Gilmore, who campaigned vigorously for his fellow Republicans and spearheaded fundraising efforts that helped fuel the GOP victory.
Gilmore called the win "a great time for all Virginians," and said that "democracy" had finally come to the commonwealth.
Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson, who joined Gilmore in Richmond for the victory celebration, called the results "a bellwether for all the elections," to follow next year.
Tuesday's results bode well for former Governor George Allen, the Republican expected to challenge Sen. Charles Robb (D-VA) in the 2000 Virginia Senate race.
As final results were coming in from around the state, Gilmore said the GOP had captured 53 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates, but it turns out the final number was 52. Before Tuesday's elections, Democrats held a 50-49 edge over the GOP in the House of Delegates, with one independent who routinely sided with the Republican caucus.
In the Senate, the GOP held on to 21 of 40 Senate seats occupied by Republicans going into the election.
RNC Chairman Nicholson said the historic GOP victory was a referendum, not only on the Gilmore administration, but also on the Clinton-Gore administration. President Clinton, campaigning last month in Virginia, urged Virginia Democrats to use the 1999 election as a referendum on his administration's "record of accomplishment," and Nicholson noted that voters have done just that - by electing Republicans.
"With tonight's historic takeover of the last remaining bastion of Democrat control in the Virginia House of Delegates, we Republicans now dominate in 15 states, with 230 US House seats among them - and we've only just begun," said Nicholson.
But Democratic National Committee spokesman Jenny Backus said it's hard to draw conclusions from a shift of two or three seats: "Obviously, the issues are on our side, even though we were, as usual, outspent by the Republican Party," Backus said.
Among the more notable races in the state was the defeat of Democratic state Senator Stan Walker of Norfolk, the president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate. Walker had become a fixture in the capital city of Richmond, having served eight years in the House of Delegates and then going on to serve another 28 years in the state Senate.
Walker had been dogged during the campaign by reports that he misused campaign funds to pay for personal expenses. Analysts estimated that both parties spent a record amount of roughly $25 million in the campaign for the legislature.