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Republicans make gains in Va.; O'Malley wins in Md.

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 11:05 PM

Republicans seemed headed for a string of election victories in Virginia Tuesday, with several GOP incumbents projected as winners and a prominent Democratic incumbent congressman headed for defeat.

In Maryland, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley was headed for victory over his Republican challenger, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

In Virginia, the Associated Press declared Republicans Frank Wolf , Eric Cantor , Rob Wittman, Morgan Griffith, Bob Goodlatte, Robert Wittman, Scott Rigell, and Randy Forbes victors in their U.S. House races, along with Democrats Bobby Scott and Jim Moran.

Fellow Democrat Tom Perriello, a major supporter of Obama administration programs, seemed headed to defeat at the hands of Republican challenger, state Sen. Robert Hurt.

In Maryland, the AP declared incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski an easy winner, along with Democrats Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Donna Edwards, Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, and Republican Roscoe Bartlett in House races.

"I think there's something wrong with people in this state," Nina Boniface, 47, a supporter of former governor Ehrlich, said after learning he was expected to lose.

"I don't think they're getting what's going on," said Boniface, a Harford County dental assistant. "They're not seeing the 'midnight run' tax increase," she said, referring to a late-night vote in the General Assembly that increased state taxes. "I'm frustrated."

Voting was brisk in Virginia, but turnout appeared lower in Maryland and the District, where many people took advantage of early voting.

In Maryland, the O'Malley campaign said late in the day that it had received complaints from voters statewide who received robo-calls urging them to stay home, evthough the polls remained open until 8 p.m.

The call, a copy of which was provided by the O'Malley campaign, said:

"I'm calling to let everyone know that Governor O'Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met," a woman said in the recording. "The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations and thank you."

Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's campaign spokesman, said the calls were designed to discourage Democrats from voting.

A somber mood prevailed in some locales, and national issues appeared to trump purely local concerns in many races, with voters expressing worry about the economy and the national debt.

Many Democratic voters showed little enthusiasm for their party's candidates, even for those candidates who won their votes.

Political analysts were closely monitoring voting trends in Virginia and Maryland, two states with races that would determine control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In Maryland's 1st Congressional District, voters were bombarded by ads in a close and bitter contest between freshman Rep. Frank M. Kratovil Jr. (D) and state Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R).

And in Virginia's 11th Congressional District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D) was trying to avoid getting swept away in a national GOP wave as he faced Republican businessman Keith Fimian.

Both those races remained close Tuesday night.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor predicted Republicans would pick up four congressional seats in Virginia on their way to taking control of the U.S. House - including a win for Fimian - which would likely make him House majority leader.

The theme of change reverberated through many polling places.

"This year we need a change in Congress," said Woodbridge resident Rudy Mallari, 54, noting that he supported Connolly in the last election. "Because of the economy, we have lost a lot of jobs. I think [Fimian] can help rebuild the economy. "

Woodbridge resident Mary Hale, 63, said it would be fine with her if the predicted shake-up becomes a reality.

"I want to see more of a balance in Congress," she said. " I also want to see more interaction between the two parties."

Many of the same concerns were repeated at the Greenspring Village retirement community in Springfield, where Fimian visited to thank volunteers who set up a table for his campaign in the building lobby.

Fimian said voters who approached him throughout the day had repeated the same message: "Please, fix this economy. Please, get our spending under control."

Greenspring resident John Anderson, 79, was one.

"I'm concerned about the budget situation," he said. "I'm concerned about the job market because I have two sons. I'm concerned about the fact that my grandchildren will be paying off debts that Obama has run up."

At the Chinn Park Regional Library in Woodbridge, Lori Lowther of Lake Ridge said she has supported Connolly since he appeared a few years ago at a slug stop hear her home. That showed her he cared.

"He came to the slug line at 5 a.m. to talk to us," Lowther said. "He's more concerned about what the people want. I've been voting for 30 years, and that's the first time someone has come talked to me. That's important."

Lowther said she found some of Fimian's campaign tactics objectionable.

"I was really turned off by Fimian's negative ads," she said. "I never knew what he really stood for."

At Newington Forest Elementary School in Fairfax County, where Connolly was chairman of the board of supervisors before he ran for Congress, Connolly campaign signs were outnumbered by Fimian signs.

"It's time for a change," said Hector Aguirre, 56, an air conditioning and heating repairman who cast his vote for Fimian. Aguirre voted for Connolly over Fimian in 2008 and usually votes for Democrats, but said that Congress should routinely change which party is in control.

In Nokesville, a steady stream of voters, mainly for Fimian, entered Brentsville District High School before the polls closed. As the temperature dropped and dinnertime approached, people were less willing to stop for campaign fliers.

Nokesville resident Annie Neal said that for the first time in 50 years, she doesn't trust government and voted for Fimian because she believes he will not "recklessly spend" taxpayer money.

"There's too much spending, which means higher taxes" she said. "We work hard for our money and don't want it wasted."

Neal said she doesn't always vote party line, but leans to moderate and conservative politicians who don't "overstep their power."

"Fimian won't spend frivolously" she said.

Maryland and the District both offered early voting this year, and many voters appeared to have taken advantage of it and cast their ballots before Election Day.

Maryland State Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone projected "typical" Election Day turnout. Lamone projected 56 percent participation statewide based on a limited survey of precincts and early voting figures, compared with the 57.5 percent turnout for the 2006 gubernatorial election.

Lamone said she got reports Tuesday afternoon that polling places were busy. She cautioned that the projections by her staff include Election Day turnout and early voting, but not absentee ballots.

In the Washington suburbs, which are expected to favor O'Malley, the State Board of Elections survey projects a 49 percent turnout in Montgomery County and 58 percent turnout in Prince George's.

In the counties surrounding Baltimore, where Ehrlich is popular, the survey projects a 58 percent turnout in Baltimore County and 64 percent in Anne Arundel.

In an effort to raise turnout, O'Malley's deputy campaign manager sent e-mails that encouraged people to also e-mail 10 friends over lunch urging them to vote.

Interest in the governor's race was high among most Maryland voters interviewed as they were entering or leaving the polls.

At Paint Branch Elementary School in College Park, Ryan Whitlow, 32, a county employee who said he is a registered independent, said he voted for O'Malley.

Whitlow said he didn't think Ehrlich's proposal for bus rapid transit would help the city redevelop in the way O'Malley's plans for a light-rail line would. The 16-mile Purple Line is proposed to run inside the Capital Beltway between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George's, including through College Park.

Whitlow said he voted for O'Malley four years ago, too. He said he wants O'Malley to focus on job growth.

"I'd hope to see the economy recover," Whitlow said. "I think they're on the right track. I just don't think Ehrlich's tax cuts is the plan now to get the economy going."

Republican Catherine Gubisch, a 22-year-old piano teacher, said she voted for Ehrlich.

"He seemed to do a lot less spending than O'Malley," she said. "I keep hearing about O'Malley's spending, and I don't like the idea of raising taxes."

Gubisch said she was worried that O'Malley would raise taxes, which is her biggest concern.

In the District, a water-main break near Michigan Avenue NE led to a power failure at a polling place after water flooded the basement, officials from the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics said in the late afternoon.

Voters who came to Bunker Hill Elementary School near 14th Street and Michigan Avenue NE were able to cast ballots even though the building's power was out. Officials immediately used emergency equipment to keep the lines moving, said Alysoun McLaughlin, an elections board spokeswoman. She added that an extra generator and lights were being dispatched to the school as a precaution, and said she didn't expect any delays in voting because of the outage.

With nightfall, voters were casting ballots in the dark.

Elsewhere, all of the city's 143 polls opened on time, a stark contrast to the Sept. 14 primary, when problems with new voting machines caused delays in opening a handful of precincts.

Rokey W. Suleman II, executive director of the elections board, said there were "hiccups" in voting, most involving poll workers who had trouble connecting printers to voting machines. The printers are used to print reports before polls open, showing that no votes have been cast on the machines. None of the issues delayed voters, Suleman said.

At Precinct 141, at the Frank D. Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW, some poll workers did not show up Tuesday morning, requiring officials to send in backup personnel.

Traci Hughes, a spokeswoman for D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray's mayoral campaign, said she has gotten many fewer complaints than in September. "I'm not getting the frantic calls," she said. "So far, so good."

After the primary, the board offered precinct captains and other poll workers as much as eight hours of additional training to prevent a repeat of September's problems. Officials, criticized for the late timing of primary returns, will face an additional test Tuesday evening as they aim to more swiftly report the day's results.

ruanem@washpost.com marimowa@washpost.com

Staff writers Jennifer Buske, Aaron C. Davis, Mike DeBonis, Akeya Dickson, Caitlin Gibson, Christy Goodman, Hamil Harris, Christopher Jenkins, Anita Kumar, Frederick Kunkle, Anne E. Marimow, Nathan Rott, Ian Shapira and Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.

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