By Todd Richissin
Virginia voters narrowly elected Democrat Terry McAuliffe as governor Tuesday, slapping down the tea party wing of the Republican Party and the candidate it practically hand-picked, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
The election marked the first time since 1977 that Virginia voters went with the gubernatorial candidate from the same party as the president occupying the White House.
After Democrat Ralph S. Northam, a state senator and physician, handily defeated Republican E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor, Democrats were hoping for a clean sweep of the three statewide offices up for grabs.
But late Tuesday night, Republican Mark Obenshain held a slim, 12,546-vote lead over Democrat Mark Herring, according to unofficial results from the State Board of Election. Twenty precincts had yet to report.
For the big prize, though, with President Obama living just across the river from the Democrat's victory celebration, voters gave the governor's race to the ultimate party insider, chum of Bill and Hillary Clinton and prolific fundraiser before, during and after serving as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“What a great night, everybody!” McAuliffe told supporters inside a Tysons Corner ballroom. He pledged to work with Republicans, Libertarians and Democrats alike before adding, “I understand emotions are raw—I get it. I will be governor of all Virginians.”
Virginia, once reliably conservative-red, has become increasingly purple over the years, and voters lurched deeper toward the blue Tuesday, apparently showing their displeasure with the direction the GOP has taken in the state and nationally.
With 99 percent of the vote in, McAuliffe had 47.5 percent of the vote, Cuccinelli 45.9. Libertarian Robert Sarvis had 6.6. In the raw vote, McAuliffe had 1,027,453; Cuccinelli 991,562; and Sarvis 142,818.
“I’m very disappointed,” Cuccinelli told supporters assembled in a hotel ballroom in Richmond, according to The Washington Post, adding that he was also “immensely proud of the campaign we ran.”
Virginia was Ground Zero for the October government shutdown, with tens of thousands of workers furloughed and polls showing the GOP overwhelmingly getting the blame.
Cuccinelli, though, trailing in most polls, campaigned with tea party leaders and generals who orchestrated the shutown.
Social issues, too, factored in, with MSNBC exit polling showing McAuliffe taking the women’s vote by more than 16 percent.
"When our team wins, it's going to be a clear repudiation of tea party politics," state Sen. Barbara Favola said from the McAuliffe victory party before final votes were counted. "Voters were very clear they were opposed to the shutdown."
Cuccinelli and his running mate for the lieutenant governor’s office, Jackson, are hard-core anti-abortion foes, and each has opposed gay rights in the state with razor-sharp rhetoric from their offices, the pulpit and on the stump.
Precincts reported steady traffic, but not overwhelming, with long lines moving quickly in most polling places.
Loudoun County reported computer glitches early in the morning, causing some delays, but the problems seemed to be ironed out with a couple of hours.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican E.W. Jackson is up against Democrat Ralph Northam, and the attorney general’s race was between Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain.
"All the campaigns seem to be behaving themselves so far," said Ulo Pulles, chief of the Herndon Community Center polling place. "At least compared to the 2012 presidential election."
The Election Day lunch hour was busy at Jennie Dean Elementary School, Manassas City's largest voting precinct.
A steady stream of cars moved in and out of the full lot, where parking spaces were hard to come by. Veteran assistant precinct chief Roy Ethington said Jennie Dean historically reports the highest voter turnout in the city. By 1 pm, more than 1,072 of the 5,172 registered at the precinct had voted.
The gubernatorial race was a high-dollar, low-road campaign by both candidates, with far more attack advertisements muddying the airwaves than any specific plans for addressing the economic and transportation needs of Virginia.
McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, pulled in a long list of high-profile surrogates including Bill and Hillary Clinton and President Obama. And he pulled from a long history of big-money contacts, vastly outspending Cuccinelli, including 10-1 on television advertisements in the past week.
Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, is a Tea Party favorite whose association with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky did nothing to combat McAuliffe’s constant portrayal of Cuccinelli as an obstructionist who would impose anti-abortion and anti-science views on the rest of the state.
Nor was Cuccinelli helped by the current governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, relegated to the sidelines as he wages his own campaign against corruption allegations.
Vienna moms Lisa Calhoun and Kathy Brown came out to vote today because it could matter, they said. Cuccinelli just seems a little too far to the right," said Calhoun.
"I have doubts about the controversies surrounding him," Brown said. The two stopped to discuss the issues with children and dog Maggie in tow just outside the Vienna Community Center, where a steady stream of voters were heading inside to vote Tuesday afternoon.
One voter posted on Ashburn Patch's Facebook page that it took 30 minutes to vote in Loudoun County and she was only the 14th person in line.
"... the computer database had already been down twice and they don't have paper ledgers so you either wait, come back or vote provisional," Carla Scarlett Berman wrote. "It might be a LONG day at the polls."
Loudoun Registrar Judy Brown said there were some problems, but only in limited precincts, and nothing that will impact voting in Loudoun.
Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis put in a strong showing, heading into Election Day gaining about 8 percent in most polls.