- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

RICHMOND Mark R. Warner last night reclaimed Virginia's governorship for Democrats, defeating Republican Mark L. Earley by a 5 percent margin.
"This campaign's been the longest job interview of my life, but now the people of Virginia have spoken. They said they want a new approach for the commonwealth. Tonight, I'm here to tell you I'm ready for the challenge," Mr. Warner said in his 11 p.m. victory speech at the Richmond Marriott Hotel.
Mr. Warner's victory ends eight years of Republicans in the Governor's Mansion and a streak during which Republicans won seven of nine statewide races. With all 2,349 precincts reporting, Mr. Warner had about 52 percent of the vote, Mr. Earley had about 47 percent and Libertarian William B. Redpath had less than 1 percent, according to unofficial tallies by the State Board of Elections.
Mr. Earley conceded about 10:15 p.m. at the Richmond Omni Hotel. "Churchill said, 'If it's a blessing, it's certainly well-disguised,'" Mr. Earley said on a stage surrounded about many of the Republicans responsible for the winning streak, such as Gov. James S. Gilmore III and U.S. Sen. George F. Allen, a former governor.
The last eight years will be known as "the golden era in Virginia," Mr. Earley said.
The Associated Press called the election in Mr. Warner's favor at about 9:15 p.m.
Mr. Warner, who becomes the state's 69th governor, was aiming to bring help with him Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, with 50 percent of the vote, was leading Republican Jay K. Katzen, who had 48 percent, in the lieutenant governor race.
But Republicans were succeeding in other races: In one, Jerry W. Kilgore won the attorney general race with more than 60 percent of the vote, beating Democrat A. Donald McEachin, who had about 40 percent.
Some of the House of Delegates races were too close to call for this edition. But Republicans were confident of controlling 65 seats in the 100-seat chamber, a net gain of 12 seats that would put them two seats shy of a veto-proof majority. As of last night, Republicans had knocked off three Democratic incumbent delegates but lost one of their own in Northern Virginia.
"Most of my Republican candidates ran as Republicans and they won. Kilgore ran as a Republican and he won. And Warner ran as a Republican and he won," said House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican.
Mr. Warner's victory means new life for a Democratic Party that was fighting for relevance in Virginia politics.
The party lost its last remaining statewide officeholder last year, when U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb lost his bid for re-election to Mr. Allen. Democrats had been shut out of the top three state offices when Republicans swept the elections four years ago.
Republicans had a chance to empty the Democrats' stable of candidates by sweeping this year, but victories by Mr. Warner or his ticket mates mean Democrats have viable candidates for future state races.
Despite record campaign spending and a late barrage of ads, the race didn't stir voters.
Early figures showed about 40 percent of Virginia's 4.1 million registered voters turned out for the governor's race.
The candidates also seemed very similar on many issues, with both pledging not to roll back Republicans' popular plans of the last eight years, including the car-tax cut, abolishing parole, reforming welfare and enacting the Standards of Learning and assessment tests that go with the SOLs.
The September 11 terrorist attacks changed the race's public face dramatically, with one of the attacks occurring on Virginia soil at the Pentagon. Politics froze in place for about a week, as both campaigns took their commercials off the air and canceled events.
But the underlying dynamics of the race never changed: Mr. Warner's lead in the polls seemed firm, and Mr. Earley still cast about for a message.
In the final month and a half of the campaign, Mr. Earley flipped back and forth between focusing on his experience and attacking Mr. Warner's transportation plan, which calls for a referendum in Northern Virginia that would ask if residents would pay more in sales taxes to fund transportation projects.
The issue seemed to cut both ways, with polls showing voters thought Mr. Warner was proposing a tax increase while supporting a referendum, but also showing the majority of Northern Virginians would vote against the referendum.
Meanwhile, Mr. Warner ran on the same message throughout end the budget impasse in Richmond and nurture the economy throughout the state.
Mr. Warner, 46, made a fortune estimated at between $200 miillion and $250 million in cellular communications. This is his second run at elected office, having failed to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John W. Warner in 1996. A lifelong Democratic activist, he ran Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's campaign in 1989, served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board under Mr. Wilder, and was state party chairman in the early 1990s.
Mr. Earley, 47, served 10 years as state senator from Chesapeake before winning the attorney general's spot in the Republican 1997 sweep of the top three offices. He defeated Lt. Gov. John H. Hager in a fierce battle this year for the party's nomination to succeed current Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who is prohibited by law from serving consecutive terms.
The election will go down as the costliest in Virginia history, topping the 1994 race in which Republican Oliver North raised $20 million in his unsuccessful effort to oust Mr. Robb.
In the most recent reports, through late October, Mr. Warner reported raising about $20 million and Mr. Earley had raised more than $10 million. About half of Mr. Earley's money came from national sources like the Republican National Committee, while Mr. Warner matched the RNC's money by contributing $5 million of his own money to his campaign.
The RNC gave more than money to Mr. Earley, though, supplementing his campaign staff with dozens of RNC employees who helped with press, field work and even with running the campaign.
Mr. Warner responded with a large organization of his own campaign staff, as well as a coordinated campaign effort funded largely by unions. Union members also made up a large part of his campaign field organization.


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