Obviously the rumored retirement of William Wampler could have a huge impact on the State Senate. Currently 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans among the Senators-Elect, this would give Democrats an opportunity to seize another seat and have a more stable majority. As Bwana had pointed out, right now the Senate majority is contingent on Senators like Chuck Colgan staying in excellent health. For a guy in his 80's, that is a risky proposition for four years.
But expanding the majority is complicated for Democrats. Every seat other than Ken Cuccinelli now held by a Republican is a Bush/Kilgore/Bolling/McDonnell/Allen/Yes district. What makes Democrats think they can win this one by appointing Wampler to the SCC?
The likely Democratic candidate in this special election is Delegate Joe Johnson. Joe is one of only two House Democrats left in a straight Republican voting district at the statewide level, and that seat takes up about 40% of this Senate District. Joe has all of Bristol, and parts of Washington and Smyth counties. He is a very strong candidate because he is likely to carry outright his House district- and by a large margin, providing a Democratic base in a district that otherwise doesn't have one.
The only way to beat Johnson would be running up a good Republican margin in the far western party of the district, while is represented by Delegate Terry Kilgore. Terry is in quite a bind here- he is House GOP Caucus Chairman, so moving up would be complicated (although not unprecedented- Creigh Deeds was House Democratic Caucus Chairman and ran for the State Senate in 2001). Democrats are hoping Kilgore passes on this race because of his House responsibilities- leaving Republicans with a lesser known candidate and little time to get known enough to get the heavy turnout needed in places like Scott County to stop Johnson.
Another great Republican candidate would have been Wise Commonwealth's Attorney Chad Dotson- but he took himself out of the running when he got a judgeship last year. With a young family, chances are low Dotson would trade in a judge's salary for a State Senator's.
This is potentially a pretty big coup for the Democrats- if Johnson gets in and Kilgore stays out, I am rating this seat a "Leans Democratic Pickup" in the Special Election.
Meanwhile while the Senate GOP caucus may become smaller again, conservatives are once again looking at a pickup. It was only two years ago Republicans held 24 seats, and Senate moderates had a 19-5 advantage in the ranks. Now that advantage is down to 12-7 among the 19 current seats, and a Wampler retirement/Johnson pickup will move that to 11-7. If conservatives get lucky and got Kilgore to run, they might even be able to flip the seat totally within the caucus going to 11-8. I can't imagine seeing Norment still as leader by the time the next elections are finished, given how quickly the moderate GOP has collapsed in their once dominant home.