- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Virginia completed its march from red to blue Tuesday by electing former Gov. Mark Warner to the U.S. Senate and voting for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 44 years, but the balance of power in Virginia’s congressional delegation now appears to hinge on the outcome of one contest.

Sen. Barack Obama defeated Republican candidate Sen. John McCain in a long, hard-fought race by winning roughly 51 percent of the vote in the state, compared to Mr. McCain’s 48 percent, with 94 percent of precincts reporting.

“Virginians said they want the next U.S. senator to focus on results, not rhetoric,” Mr. Warner, 53, said during a victory party at the Hilton McLean, in Tysons Corner. “Tonight, this campaign ends about 18 months after it began, based on the notion we could find common ground.

“So here I stand, the new senator from Virginia.”

In Maryland, residents settled a decade-old debate by voting to legalize 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 voted for 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.”

Mr. Warner won overwhelmingly in Virginia, which has more than 5 million registered voters, in his race against Republican candidate James S. Gilmore III, who preceded the Democrat as governor.

His victory extends Democrats’ recent dominance in statewide elections: Virginia voters in recent years have elected two consecutive Democratic governors, restored the party’s control of the state Senate and unseated Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen by voting for Republican-turned-Democrat Jim Webb.

Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Virgil H. Goode Jr. are nearly deadlocked in a race to represent the 5th District.

With all 307 precincts reporting, Mr. Goode led Mr. Perriello by just 446 votes Wednesday morning, and each candidate had won roughly 50 percent of the vote. The race has not been called by the Associated Press.

A victory by Mr. Goode would give Virginia Republicans a slim 6-5 majority in Congress, a far cry from the 8-3 lead they held entering Tuesday.

A win for Mr. Perriello would shift Virginia’s balance of power in the House toward Democrats, following elections that saw voters give the party control of the state’s second U.S. Senate seat and side with a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964.

Republicans still hold Virginia’s lieutenant governorship and attorney general’s office, both of which are also elected statewide.

With 94 percent of the state’s 2,496 precincts reporting, Mark Warner won 64 percent of the vote, compared with Mr. Gilmore’s 35 percent. The candidates vied to replace Republican Sen. John W. Warner, who is retiring. The two Warners are not related.

In his concession speech delivered in Richmond, Mr. Gilmore credited Mr. Warner with running a good campaign.

“The people of Virginia have spoken,” he said.

Mr. Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since President Johnson in 1964. Virginia further made history in this year’s presidential election, playing the unusual role of a battleground in which Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain and their running mates spent millions of dollars and combined made more than 20 trips to the state.

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

Democrat Gerald E. Connolly defeated Republican Keith S. Fimian in the 11th District race, which was a fight to replace retiring Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a moderate Republican who represented the area since 1995.

With 159 of 166 precincts reporting, Mr. Connolly had garnered 53 percent of the vote, while Mr. Fimian had 45 percent. Independent Green candidate Joseph P. Oddo earned 2 percent.

The contest had been a bitter one, and Mr. Connolly, 58, said Virginians last night “joined fellow Americans in taking back their government.”

“The voters said enough, be gone - you’ve had your day,” Mr. Connolly said at the Hilton election party. “All of the easy things have been done. We must be ready to tackle the tougher issues.”

In the 2nd District, Republican incumbent Thelma Drake trailed Democrat Glenn C. Nye III late last night. Mrs. Drake, who narrowly won re-election in 2006, drew 49 percent of the vote, compared with Mr. Nye’s 51 percent, with 75 percent of 161 precincts reporting.

Republican incumbent Frank R. Wolf defeated Judy Feder in the 10th District in a rematch of their 2006 contest, while Republicans won races in the 1st, 4th, 6th and 7th districts.

Democrats won uncontested races in the 3rd and 9th districts, while incumbent Democrat James P. Moran easily defeated Republican challenger Mark W. Ellmore 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.”

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