- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

UPDATED:

The voter turnout to elect a Democratic candidate for Virginia governor has been low through the afternoon on Tuesday, as predicted, state elections officials say.

While the numbers have been low, they’ve been higher than expected because of a larger turnout across Northern Virginia. The State Board of Elections said the turnout has been 2 to 4 percent across the state.

Democrats are hoping to win the Virginia governorship for the third straight time.

As of noon, 10 percent of voters turned out in Arlington. Alexandria reported 6. 3 percent and Falls Church 7.4 percent. Elsewhere in the state, Appomattox County had 1 percent, Roanoke County had 2 percent and Sussex County had 2.2 percent.

With areas of the state experiencing rolling thunderstorms, some polling stations experienced power outages during the day. As voters prepared to head out again to the polls Tuesday night, the State Board of Elections was working to restore power to about a dozen locations.

The day started with a torrential downpour in Northern Virginia as the skies opened around 6 a.m. But skies cleared for residents voting on their lunch-breaks.

Shortly after the morning rain stopped, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and his family arrived at the Spring Hill Elementary School in McLean to cast their votes.

The race was “always going to be close,” Mr. McAuliffe told reporters gathered outside the polling station. “This is a hard-fought campaign.”

Mr. McAuliffe is running against former Delegate Brian J. Moran and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, who was ahead in the polls going into primary day.

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Mr. Deeds had a commanding lead as of Sunday, according to a poll by Public Policy Polling, a nonpartisan firm based in Raleigh, N.C. Mr. Deeds had 40 percent, followed by Mr. McAuliffe at 26 percent and Mr. Moran at 24 percent.

The central theme of the race has been whether either of the two local candidates, from different parts of the state, could beat a well-heeled national figure with statewide name recognition. Polling figures had been back and forth, but Mr. Deeds surged in the past several weeks.

Mr. Deeds cast his vote at about 9:30 a.m. with his wife in son at the Millboro Ruritan Club, in Millboro.

Preliminary figures released by the State Board of Elections show that Arlington County has the highest percentage of voter turnout — 6 percent, said board spokesman Ryan Enright. As of 10 a.m., Manassas Park had 33 voters, Danville had less than 1 percent, Montgomery County had 1.45 percent and Radford just under 2 percent of voters casting ballots.

The winner will face Republican nominee and former state Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell in the November general election.

On Tuesday morning, 20 voters had cast their vote at the McLean polling station in the hour after polls opened at 6 a.m., including Mr. McAuliffe’s oldest daughter, who voted for the first time.

The rain delayed Paul Honigberg, 53, but didn’t stop him. When Mr. Honigberg saw the storm, he opted to have breakfast and wait out the weather. He said he always comes out to vote in elections. “It’s the one chance we have to directly influence the process,” he said.

Mr. McAuliffe said he didn’t think thunderstorms would reduce voter turnout. The National Weather Service is predicting thunderstorms throughout the day for parts of Northern Virginia, with a possibility of severe wind and hail in some areas.

The turnout has been one of the key questions about the race in recent days: Whether the primary would attract those who vote in every race or bring out the voters who helped President Barack Obama win Virginia. The majority of voters, who spoke to The Washington Times, said they voted in very election.

Among them was Scott A. Dykema, 56, who said he came to his North Arlington polling station because the primary process is often the most important vote cast.

“I think you need someone actively engaged in state politics, in life of the state,” he said, echoing Tip O’Neills sentiment that “all politics is local.”

State Board of Elections Secretary Nancy Rodrigues said that as few as 3 percent of the state’s 5.8 million registered voters were expected to participate. The state has an open primary, which means a voter can cast a ballot in either the Democratic or Republican primary but not both. Polls are open until 7 p.m.

The Spring Hill Elementary School voting station had more than 50 people vote in the first two hours. The Ashton Heights precinct in Arlington County had 211 voters by 10 a.m.

The Haycock precinct polling station in Falls Church had a line out the door by 8:30 a.m. and 69 people had already voted. An election officer at the Haycock precinct said he was surprised by the turnout. “I think we’re seeing really good turnout for a primary,” Herbert Beckner said. “We’re not disappointed in the turnout.”

Mr. Honigberg said his choice was between Mr. Deeds and Mr. Moran. He also said the momentum of the election has really changed since The Washington Post endorsed Mr. Deeds.

Other voters echoed his sentiments. Susan Gorin, the executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists, said she was voting for Mr. Deeds because of an endorsement by a teachers’ union and the Post editorial.

Mr. Honigberg, a self-described “yellow dog Democrat,” said choosing his candidate came down to the issues of transportation and electability. He also said a key question was “who’s been a part of Virginia government, had long-time position on issues that reflect mine and is good for the state?”

The electability issue was also foremost on the mind of several other voters. Randy Custer, 56, said he voted for Mr. Deeds because “he is the one with the best chance to beat Bob McDonnell.”

Desmond Riley, 39, of Falls Church said regional issues played a role in why he voted for Mr. Moran.

“I don’t think this region gets the proper attention it deserves,” he said.

Mr. McAuliffe campaigned around Northern Virginia throughout the day. In a campaign in which Mr. McAuliffe has tried to emulate President Obama, he stopped Tuesday for lunch at Ray’s Hell Burger in North Arlington, where the president and Vice President Joe Biden ate last month.

Mr. McAuliffe asked the diners whether they were Virginia residents and if so could he have their vote. At least one couple said they intended to vote for him later in the day. After the candidate stopped and chatted with them, Michelle and Jeremy Hoffman, of Alexandria, said they intended to vote for Mr. McAuliffe.

But in a sign that Mr. McAuliffe’s well organized campaign may have worked against him, Stanley Blouin, 79, said he voted for Mr. Deeds instead of Mr. McAuliffe. “I was going to vote for McAuliffe, but I just got the impression after being called two or three times a day by ‘friends of Terry,’ and I began to feel that maybe he was trying to buy the election and that annoyed me.”

Over the weekend, the candidates unfolded their television blitzes. Mr. Deeds highlighted his experience and endorsements, while the McAuliffe campaign stressed its candidate’s ability to create jobs. They concentrated their spots in Northern Virginia.

Mr. Moran did not run ads in Northern Virginia but focused in other areas of Virginia.

Mr. McDonnell, ran television spots focusing on his promise to create jobs. He accepted his party’s uncontested nomination at its convention last month.

On Monday, Mr. Deeds made stops in central Virginia, beginning the day in Danville and finished with a rally at his campaign headquarters in Charlottesville. Mr. McAuliffe started the day in Norfolk, made a stop in Richmond and finished the day in Alexandria. Mr. Moran held an election rally in Alexandria.

Voters also will decide Tuesday on a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. The candidates are A. Michael Signer, a national security specialist and Democratic strategist, and former Finance Secretary Jody M. Wagner. The winner will face incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

Both candidates have been involved in state politics. Mrs. Wagner was the state treasurer under Gov. Mark Warner, then finance secretary for Gov. Tim Kaine. Mr. Signer was Mr. Warner’s deputy counselor and a policy adviser for the Obama and Edwards presidential campaigns, as well as a senior strategist for Rep. Tom Perriello.

The focus of Tuesday’s election has largely been who will win the gubernatorial nomination, but taking the House of Delegates is seen as a crucial part of the Democratic strategy. Retaining control of the House is important to Republicans, who lost control of the U.S. Senate seats and have dealt with Democratic governors continually since Mr. Warner’s victory in 2001.

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