Democrat Mark R. Warner cruised to a decisive victory in the U.S. Senate race against Republican James S. Gilmore III yesterday, giving Virginia two Democratic senators for the first time in almost four decades.
The two former governors spent a year vying to replace retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner in a race that was overshadowed by the battle for Virginia in the presidential election. The two Warners are unrelated.
Warner, 53, was winning with nearly two-thirds of the vote with almost all precincts reporting. He dominated every region of the state, with about a quarter of self-described Republicans casting a ballot for Warner, exit polls said.
Warner, who left office in 2006 with record-high approval ratings, describes himself as a bipartisan leader who will go to Washington to form a group of "radical centrists" to solve problems.
He pledged to develop a plan to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, but without a specific timetable, and to boost education in an effort to compete in global markets. He promised to invest in new energy sources, including offshore oil drilling, which he had initially been reluctant to embrace, and to rebuild sagging infrastructure before more disasters, such as the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
Warner took the stage at the ballroom of the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner about 10 p.m. Hundreds greeted him with chants of "Warner! Warner!"
"Tonight, by a record margin, Virginians said they want their next U.S. senator to focus on results, not rhetoric," he said. "Virginians understand at this critical moment for our nation that we're not going to get our country back on track if we continue to look at our problems through the old ideas of red versus blue, left versus right."
Gilmore called Warner after 9 p.m. to congratulate him and then spoke to 150 supporters at a party at a hotel outside Richmond.
JoAnn Grainger, 50, who works at Georgetown University and tends to vote for Democrats, said she cast her ballot for Warner at the Madison Adult Day Health Center in North Arlington.
"I thought he did a good job as governor, and also he's on the Democratic ticket," she said. "I generally believe in the two-party system and checks and balances, but there's a lot of change that's not going to happen unless there is a real mandate."
The last time Virginia had two Democratic U.S. senators was in 1970, when Harry F. Byrd and William B. Spong were in office.
"It's just a tremendous tail wind for us," Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said. "Going forward, we just have to stick to the plan, which is: Solve problems and stick together. Solve problems and be unified. It's very simple. There's nothing magical about this; be problem-solvers and unifiers, and we'll do fine."
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