- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Virginia continued its march from red to blue Tuesday with former Gov. Mark Warner winning a U.S. Senate seat for the Democrats, giving their party control of the state’s two Senate seats for the first time since 1970 and increasing their majority in Congress.

The victory by Sen. Barack Obama also marks the first time Virginia has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in more than 40 years.

In Maryland, residents voted to settle a decade-old debate over legalizing slot machines, while the District, with a majority of Democrats and black residents, appeared ready to replace D.C. Council stalwart Carol A. Schwartz and elect the country’s first black president in Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat.

“It’s huge, I think,” said Liz Levy, a D.C. resident who voted at Stuart-Hobson Middle School, in Northeast. “I disagree with the way the country’s been going for eight years, and I’m excited for a change.”

The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Warner at 7 p.m., the same time polls closed in Virginia. With 8 percent of the state’s 2,496 precincts reorting at about 7:45 p.m., the Democrat had won nearly 61 percent of the vote, compared to 38 percent for Republican candidate James S. Gilmore III. The candidates were vying to replace Republican Sen. John W. Warner, who is retiring.

Democrats also appeared ready to take at least one House seat in Virginia, with Gerald E. Connolly expected to defeat Republican Keith S. Fimian in the 11th District race to replace retiring Rep. Thomas M. Davis III.

Regardless of the winner, Virginia has made history in this year’s presidential election, playing the unusual role of a battleground in which Mr. Obama, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain and their running mates spent millions of dollars and combined made more than 20 trips to the state.

If Virginia’s more than 5 million registered voters marked their ballots in line with final poll numbers, they also will make Mr. Obama the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

However, the results in the state — and across the country — could hinge on a court decision.

The McCain campaign filed a complaint in federal court this week stating absentee ballots were not sent by Virginia localities to military voters overseas in time for the election.

U.S. District Judge Richard Williams ruled that absentee ballots received late be preserved properly pending the outcome of the case, which will be heard Nov. 10.

“Virginia hasn’t been the center of attention this much since the Founding Era,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Depending on the [election] results, Virginia could be defined differently for many years to come.”

Mr. Warner’s victory extends the party’s recent dominance in statewide elections.

Virginia voters in recent years have elected two straight Democratic governors, given the party control of the state Senate and unseated Republican incumbent Sen. George F. Allen Jr. by voting for Democrat Jim Webb.

Mr. Warner, 53, outpaced Mr. Gilmore, 58, in fundraising and in the polls margins the Republican failed to reduce as the two men sparred repeatedly over their respective records as governor.

In the state’s congressional races, Republicans were expected to maintain their majority in the House delegation but lose at least one or more of their eight seats, despite having redrawn the districts in 2001 to benefit their candidates.

The 11th District race was a fight to replace Mr. Davis, a moderate Republican who has represented the area since 1995. Mr. Connolly is well known from his tenure as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, a big advantage against Mr. Fimian, an accountant and businessman.

The contest was a bitter one: Mr. Connolly, 58, said Mr. Fimian, 52, had masked that he is too conservative to represent the moderate region.

“He’s considerably to the right of where this district is and where the current Republican incumbent is,” Mr. Connolly said. “You’re far better served in just laying out what you really believe and letting the voters make up their minds.”

Mr. Fimian said tactics like an ad campaign by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeting his membership on the board of the Catholic business group Legatus tried “to make me into something that I’m clearly not.”

“They want to portray that I’m a lot more conservative than I am,” he said. “I’m pro-life, but that also means I’m against the death penalty.”

Republicans also were in jeopardy of losing the 2nd District race. Incumbent Thelma Drake — who narrowly won re-election in 2006 by roughly 5,000 votes — faced a stiff challenge from Democrat Glenn C. Nye III, a former foreign service officer.

Mr. Nye, 34, tried to peg Mrs. Drake, 58, as a partisan politician. Mrs. Drake said she sided against President Bush on the financial bailout of Wall Street.

In the 5th District, attorney and newcomer Thomas Stuart Price Perriello, 34, was hoping to unseat six-term incumbent Virgil H. Goode Jr., 62.

Other races on Virginia ballots included Democrat Judy M. Feder, 61, attempting for the second time to unseat Republican incumbent Frank R. Wolf, 69, in the 10th District and Republican Mark W. Ellmore, 50, battling Democratic incumbent James P. Moran, 63, in the 8th District.

Election officials and watchdogs noted some problems at the polls Tuesday.

The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition said they received voter calls reporting problems like machine failures, precincts opening late, voters turned away from the polls and voter intimidation.

Mr. McCain’s campaign also said some electronic voting machines in the state showed only Mr. Obama as a candidate for president on their initial pages.

The elections board acknowledged some problems with equipment, but said they were addressed.

Board spokeswoman Susan Pollard said as many as 1,000 people had waited in line at a Chesapeake precinct, but any reports of thousands of voters being illegally turned away were inaccurate.

“I was in and out in 10 minutes,” said Mike Opachko of Vienna, who voted at Cunningham Park Middle School. “I thought the line would be longer because this is such an historic election.”

— Reporter Timothy Warren contributed to this report.

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