Polls Close After Stormy Day Brings Trickle of Voters

Residents cast early votes in Arlington, Va., for Democratic primary candidates for governor. Video by Anna Uhls/The Washington Post
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 2009; 7:11 PM

Polls have closed across Virginia in a volatile Democratic primary that was buffeted for much of the day by severe weather that election officials said supressed turnout even more than expected.

Lines of thunderstorms drifting across the state in the morning and afternoon added to the unpredictability of a wide-open gubernatorial race in which three candidates have battled relentlessly on television and radio, in print and in telephoned appeals over who was best suited to create jobs, protect the environment and expand access to health care.

Candidates for the top spot on the Democratic ticket are state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, former Alexandria delegate Brian Moran and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. Whoever wins the primary will face Republican Robert F. McDonnell in the general election.

Campaign workers and outside observers have said for weeks that a key to this primary is mobilizing reliable voters rather than drawing those who are not used to casting ballots in preliminary races. But that was hard to do today, as soaking rain, hail, thunder and lightning caused scattered power outages and led the National Weather Service twice to urge people to stay indoors.

Turnout was as low as 2 percent of registered voters in some communities at 4 p.m., local election officials reported. In Prince William County, just 3,757 had cast ballots out of 222,000 registered voters.

"It's very, very slow," said Vicki Lewis, the registrar of Newport News in Hampton Roads.

Turnout was higher in Northern Virginia, particularly Arlington and Alexandria, considered friendly territory for Moran, and in Bath County on the West Virginia line, where Deeds lives.

The candidates have been battling for attention on the airwaves and by mail in the weeks leading up to today's contest, the first competitive gubernatorial primary in Virginia in decades. Their challenge has been daunting: to reach voters likely to vote in a Democratic primary, and to distinguish themselves in a field of candidates with more similarities on the issues than differences.

Voters offered a variety of reasons for their selections, basing their choices on such factors as who they thought would fix the economy and who they thought had a better shot against McDonnell in the fall. All three Democrats support gay marriage, but only Moran has pledged to fight to repeal Virginia's ban. All three support exploring alternative energy sources such as wind. All three promise to find more money to solve Northern Virginia's traffic crunch.

Oswald Cumberbatch, 56, of Chantilly, said he voted for McAuliffe on both counts.

"He's a business man, and I think he has a pretty good chance of helping the economy," said Cumberbatch, a father of six from Trinidad and a cook in a corporate cafeteria in Ashburn. "And I wish him the best of luck, because we don't want the Republicans back in there."

Wendy Moniz, 44, of the Del Ray section of Alexandria, said she voted for Moran because he is a "local guy," and she thinks his values align with those of Mark Warner and Timothy M. Kaine.

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