Thursday, November 8, 2001

RICHMOND Virginia voters sent a mixed message Tuesday night, ending eight years of Republican governorship by electing Democrat Mark R. Warner, while also rewarding the GOP leadership in the House of Delegates by electing 64 Republicans in the 100-member chamber.
Mr. Warner, who beat Republican Mark L. Earley 52 percent to 47 percent, ran a solid campaign that focused on his message: cleaning up the Republican-made budget impasse and bringing a bipartisan government to the state. He also helped carry fellow Democrat Timothy M. Kaine into the lieutenant governor’s seat, with Mr. Kaine topping Republican Jay K. Katzen 50 percent to 48 percent.
But the GOP flexed its political muscle in other key races. Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, who beat Democrat A. Donald McEachin for the attorney general’s slot, led all candidates with 1.1 million votes 120,000 more than Mr. Warner received. And in the House of Delegates, Republicans extended their control from 52 seats to a solid 64 seats in the 100-seat chamber.
Some pundits said this year’s budget impasse, in which the governor and legislature failed to agree on amendments to the state budget, cost Mr. Earley votes. But Republicans point to their success in the House, which stood behind the governor for much of the legislative session, as counter-evidence.
And even Mr. Warner seemed to agree the 2001 campaign season in the state lacked a central, overriding message. “I think each of these races was won or lost on their own,” he said at his first post-election news conference yesterday.
What everyone does agree on is the Warner gubernatorial campaign featured a winning combination of organization, money and a candidate who was particularly adept at defusing political attacks.
Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and supporter of Mr. Warner, said yesterday that Mr. Warner followed the same model as another former Virginia Democratic governor, Charles S. Robb. Both men ran proudly as Democrats, but signaled they weren’t going to be tied to their party if they thought certain positions hurt them politically.
In this year’s race, Mr. Warner ran as a supporter of gun rights, as favoring some limited abortion restrictions and as a supporter of many of the big accomplishments of the last two Republican governors in Virginia everything from parole abolition to the car-tax cut to the Standards of Learning.
Mr. Warner’s personal wealth aided his bid it meant he could spend enough to cover all his bases, including running television ads throughout the summer, hiring a gigantic campaign staff and creating a thorough “turn out the vote” effort in a state where Republicans usually dominate that aspect.
Maybe most impressive is the breadth of Mr. Warner’s victory. Unlike other Democrats who won based on an urban-rural split, conceding the suburbs to Republicans, Mr. Warner campaigned hard throughout the state and won victories in almost every region. Specifically, Mr. Warner won six of 11 congressional districts. By contrast, outgoing Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III won nine districts in 1997.
Republicans say Mr. Earley ran a lackluster campaign that never capitalized on what were supposed to be two of his strengths his appeal to black voters, who usually vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and his history of supporting labor causes.
They point instead to the House successes as evidence that Virginia remains a Republican state and Mr. Warner is an anomaly.
As recently as 30 years ago, Republicans held fewer than 20 seats in the House, and just six years ago, Democrats declared that they would always hold a majority in the House. That makes the new balance all the more amazing.
Alan Moore, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said that sort of change is understandable any time you’re on the short end of redistricting.
In that respect, Republicans were exceptionally efficient, taking every single open seat they created through redistricting.
But Republicans also knocked off three incumbent Democrats two in Southwest Virginia and one in Norfolk while losing just one of their own, Delegate John H. “Jack” Rust Jr., in Fairfax County.
Now, Republicans are confident of the future. They say that this election proves that if Democrats run a great campaign, with everything going their way, and Republicans run a bad campaign, Democrats will top out with just more than 50 percent of the vote.
As for Democrats, the future challenge will be to duplicate Mr. Warner’s winning combination. “The answer to that is if they’ve got the money Mark Warner had, they can do it again,” Mr. Wilder said.

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