By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
RICHMOND, Nov. 28 -- Virginia election officials on Monday certified Republican Del. Robert F. McDonnell as the winner of the election for attorney general with 323 more votes than Democratic Sen. R. Creigh Deeds out of 1.94 million cast.
McDonnell immediately claimed the mantle of attorney general-elect, but aides to Deeds said the senator will ask the Richmond Circuit Court on Tuesday to conduct a recount in what attorneys and advocates say is the closest statewide race in Virginia history.
According to the results certified by the State Board of Elections on Monday, McDonnell received 970,886 votes and Deeds received 970,563 in the Nov. 8 election. There were 1,801 write-in votes cast, election officials announced at a public meeting attended by reporters and by attorneys for both politicians.
"Mr. McDonnell is the winner of that race," Elections Board Chairman Michael Brown said.
The board also certified the other statewide races and the 100 elections for the House of Delegates. Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine was officially declared the winner of the governor's race, and Republican Sen. William T. "Bill" Bolling was certified as the winner for lieutenant governor.
In a statement e-mailed to supporters, Kaine called the certification the last step before he is inaugurated Jan. 14.
"You believed in me when I was 15 points down in the polls, and you stuck with me when the race was neck and neck -- our victory on the night of November 8th was truly a team effort," Kaine said.
In a news conference after the meeting, McDonnell said he is moving ahead with transition plans, including meetings with senior staff at the attorney general's office, and is reviewing more than 100 rsums from people who have expressed an interest in working for him.
"I am certainly honored once again that the results of the certified count shows me ahead and named as the attorney general-elect," he told reporters. "The landslide jokes are actually starting to get funny now."
McDonnell, who gave up his seat in the House of Delegates from Virginia Beach to run for attorney general, said his transition team has created 10 policy committees to work on issues he will address when he takes office. He said he expects "some wrangling" in court but is confident that he will still be ahead after the recount.
But Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, said McDonnell's lead represents "only one-hundredth of one percent" of the votes cast, and he urged patience during the recount.
"Anybody who proclaims great confidence in these results and claims to know what's going to happen is just being foolish," Deeds said in an interview. Without specifically referring to McDonnell, he said people who declare the race over are "either lying or they are crooked or they're just puffing."
Deeds said statistics from other recounts suggest that as many as 1,000 votes could shift. "Will there be enough of a shift to put me in the lead?" he asked. "You just have to let the process play itself out."
Both men said they expected the recount would be completed by Christmas, and both dismissed speculation that the office would remain in legal limbo Jan. 14, requiring an acting attorney general to be selected.
Deeds and McDonnell are former prosecutors, and each has served in the Virginia General Assembly for 14 years. The men largely agree on public safety reforms, including efforts to strengthen punishments for sex offenders, but disagree on some social issues. For example, McDonnell is a leader in the state's antiabortion movement, and Deeds said abortion should remain legal.
Outgoing Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) granted both men space in a state office building to coordinate a transition. Spokesman Kevin Hall said they will retain access to the space until the recount is over but added that should McDonnell prevail, Deeds would reimburse the state for some of the expenses.
Under Virginia law, the state pays for a court-supervised recount in cases where the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percent. But both Deeds and McDonnell said they are continuing to raise money to pay for the legal teams that are helping to coordinate their efforts.
In his statement to supporters, Kaine urged his own donors to contribute to Deeds. "I think that he can pull through this with a win if he can ensure that the recount is fair, accurate and the numbers are reliable," Kaine said.