No winner yet in Senate race
By Alan Suderman — Associated Press
RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia woke up today without a clear winner in its Senate race: Democratic incumbent Mark Warner held a narrow lead over Republican Ed Gillespie, who made the contest surprisingly close even though he received little attention and money from national groups.
The Associated Press was waiting to project the winner until it could verify the number of uncounted, outstanding votes statewide. With nearly all of the precincts reporting, Warner led by about 12,000 votes out of more than 2.1 million cast.
Warner declared victory late Tuesday and promised to work with Republicans during his next six years in office. He congratulated Gillespie for running a hard-fought race.
“I know what it’s like to come up a little short against a Warner,” said Warner, referring to his unsuccessful 1996 Senate run against then-Sen. John Warner, who is not related to him.
Gillespie did not concede and told his supporters to “get a good night’s rest.”
“We’re going to be patient here. I believe that we need to be respectful of the voters,” he said shortly before midnight.
Early returns showed Gillespie with a strong lead and had some of his supporters eagerly awaiting an upset. At Gillespie’s party at the Embassy Suites hotel in Springfield, they erupted into a wild cheer when Fox News showed the Republican leading by 6 percentage points. Later in the evening, when returns came in from the Democratic-leaning Washington suburbs, Warner had a 1-point lead, and the crowd had thinned-out crowd. The faces of those that remained were glum.
Still, the tight margin is a victory of sorts for Gillespie, who lagged behind Warner in every public poll and all the more remarkable because he did it almost all by himself. Outside groups that spent millions on other states this year, and more than $50 million in Virginia’s 2012 race, were virtually invisible in Virginia.
Warner, a popular former governor who won a Senate seat in 2008 by more than 30 percentage points, was hit by a powerful wave of voter discontent that helped Republicans secure control of the Senate.
Gillespie spent much of the campaign trying to tie Warner to President Barack Obama and focused heavily on Warner’s support for the Affordable Care Act — a strategy that appeared to work well.
Exit polls showed Warner with an across-the-board drop in support from virtually every group of voters compared with 2008, particularly young voters, low-income voters, and independents.
About a third of voters said one of the reasons they voted was to express opposition to Obama, who won the state in 2008 and 2012.
Henrico County voter Markus Niepraschk said he thought Warner was “ok” as governor but hadn’t lived up to his bipartisan rhetoric in the Senate.
“He really hasn’t said no to anything Obama’s put forth,” he said.
Jennifer Gitner, of Arlington, defended Warner’s record. “He’s tried to be more of an independent,” said Gitner, who voted for Warner. “We need more politicians who are willing to do that.”
Though well known in Washington as a seasoned GOP political operative and former White House adviser, Gillespie began the race as a virtual unknown in Virginia. The former Republican National Committee chairman went into the final weeks of the race with $2 million compared with Warner’s $8 million.
Warner used much of that cash advantage on ads critical of Gillespie’s time spent as a D.C. lobbyist, in particular for his work representing the failed energy company Enron.
Gillespie was not always able to respond directly to those attacks and because of a limited cash flow and he had to cancel ads three weeks out from Election Day and loaned his campaign $400,000 in the final weeks. He focused his limited resources on ads attacking Warner for discussing a potential federal judgeship for the daughter of a former state senator, and had an ad that ran during “Monday Night Football” that needled Warner for not being a more forceful defender of the Washington Redskins’ team name.
Associated Press writers Fred Frommer in Springfield and Matthew Barakat in Arlington contributed to this report.