Sen. Barack Obama ended the Republican grip on Virginia's electoral votes yesterday when he became the first Democratic presidential nominee in 44 years to carry the state, raising fresh doubts about the long-term health of the state GOP as suburbanites defected to the Democrats in droves.
With all but a few precincts reporting, Obama was leading Sen. John McCain by more than 100,000 votes.
Obama won the state's 13 electoral votes after he racked up huge margins in the cities and swept every jurisdiction in Northern Virginia.
Virginia Republicans declined to concede early this morning that Obama had won the state, saying there were still votes to be counted, including overseas absentee ballots. But Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) told a crowd of Democrats gathered at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner about 11 p.m. that Obama had become the first Democrat to carry the state since 1964.
The crowd erupted, pumping fists, jumping and embracing, and snapping pictures with cellphones.
"Tonight, Virginia and our nation have taken a massive step, a mighty, mighty step," said a clearly emotional Kaine, who was one of Obama's earliest supporters.
Obama's win capped a successful night for the Democrats as Mark R. Warner easily won his Senate race, and Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly was elected to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R). Two other GOP members of Congress from Virginia -- Thelma Drake and Virgil H. Goode Jr. -- were in danger of losing their seats last night.
The strength of the Democratic ticket this year in all parts of Virginia is the latest sign that the once-reliably conservative commonwealth has rapidly shifted away from the GOP in statewide races.
As both parties gear up for the 2009 governor's race, officials will try to determine whether Democrats' recent successes are a sustained realignment that could alter Virginia politics for a generation.
Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, the likely Republican nominee for governor, said he was not worried about Virginia becoming a Democratic state, saying the presidential race was fixated on federal issues, such as the Iraq war and the economy, and a desire for change.
"This was far and away a unique set of circumstances," said McDonnell, who attended a Republican party in a hotel outside Richmond. "Anytime you lose seats, you are concerned. But the dynamics of this race were so unusual. These are a set of circumstances that are not to be repeated. The Virginia electorate is still moderate right of center."
But Scott A. Surovell, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Party, said last night's results spell trouble for a Virginia Republican Party that has lost two successive governor's races, two U.S. Senate seats and control of the state Senate since 2001.
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