By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II projected confidence after he watched Fairfax County election officials begin to review the results of Virginia's tightest legislative race of the year. But the Republican, whose lead stood at 92 votes last night, stopped short of claiming victory over Democrat Janet S. Oleszek.
"It's extremely unlikely that there will be any change to the vote totals," Cuccinelli said. "It's been a very methodical process."
The challenger was also upbeat. She trailed by a quarter of a percentage point out of 37,185 votes cast, according to unofficial complete returns posted on the State Board of Elections Web site. By state law, Oleszek will have the right to request a state-funded recount if the final official outcome remains so close.
"This race is still too close to call, but I am increasingly optimistic," Oleszek said in a statement. "With the election as close as it is, we believe there's a strong chance that we will prevail."
The outcome in District 37 will not tip the balance of power in the 40-seat Senate because Democrats on Tuesday claimed a majority of at least 21 seats. But there is still much at stake. A Cuccinelli victory would enable Senate Republicans to maintain a foothold in Democrat-trending Fairfax and boost the morale of the party's conservative wing. An Oleszek victory would give Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) a slightly more comfortable Senate majority as he works with a divided General Assembly. The House of Delegates remains in Republican hands.
Yesterday, officials began a routine post-election canvass of ballots in which electoral board workers ensure that vote totals from each precinct were counted properly and the results added accurately.
But the process was unusually tense as observers for each campaign monitored the painstaking review.
Oleszek, 60, a Fairfax School Board member, huddled with advisers about her next step, staying out of public sight and declining to be interviewed. Often, candidates wait until after a certified winner has been announced to make a decision on a recount. The certification won't occur until after the Board of Elections meets later this month.
But Jonathan Murray, Oleszek's campaign manager, said the Democrat might be ready to decide on a recount when the results of the canvass are released. That's expected to occur this week.
Cuccinelli, 39, a five-year Senate veteran seeking his second full term, was on hand to monitor the canvass at the county government center. Cuccinelli said he had expected a close race but was confident that Oleszek would not catch him. The contest was one of the most contentious and ideological of the year. Cuccinelli said Oleszek was way too liberal for the district; Oleszek said Cuccinelli was way too conservative. In the end, they virtually tied.
Although the election was close, it was not the closest in Virginia legislative history. The record for narrowest win belongs to Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax). Trailing by about 20 votes just after Election Day in 1991, he won a House race that year by one vote in a recount.