In Virginia, Connolly-Fimian House race too close to call; 3 Democrats lose seats

Residents in the District, Maryland and Virginia turned out Tuesday to choose their elected officials.
By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 6:34 AM

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D) was holding on to a thin lead in the race to keep his seat Tuesday night, even as a Republican wave swept three fellow Democratic members of Congress from Virginia out of office.

In a rematch of their 2008 race, Connolly led Oakton businessman Keith Fimian (R) by less than 500 votes with 99 percent of precincts reporting in the 11th Congressional District, which includes most of Fairfax County and a portion of Prince William County. Connolly won by 12 percentage points two years ago and was leading Tuesday by less than 1 percent.

Connolly, a veteran politician who once headed the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, spoke to supporters late Tuesday and made what appeared to be an acceptance speech.

"I hope you will find me worthy. . . and accept my deep gratitude to continue to be able to serve this public for another two years," he said.

But Fimian did not concede. His campaign released a statement early Wednesday saying, "In an election this close, it is important to take the time to get the result right by seeing the counting and canvassing process through."

Fairfax elections officials said they had counted all of the votes - including absentee ballots - except for those in two precincts, where a small number of machines malfunctioned. Those votes will be counted Wednesday morning, Registrar Edgardo Cortes said.

Connolly won each of those precincts two years ago by 20 percentage points.

In the 2nd District in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D) was ousted by auto dealer Scott Rigell (R). In the 5th District in the central part of the state, first-term Rep. Tom Perriello (D) lost to state Sen. Robert Hurt. In the 9th District in southwestern Virginia, veteran Rep. Rick Boucher (D) lost his seat to state House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R).

The national momentum that carried Republicans to a projected majority in the House helped the party regain the ground it had lost in Virginia in 2008, when Connolly, Nye and Perriello all picked up GOP-held seats and President Obama became the first Democrat to carry the state since Lyndon Johnson. Some observers said they thought those wins heralded a decisive and lasting shift in Virginia politics. But it seems to have lasted just 24 months.

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said the reversal from 2008 showed the perils of reading too much into the results of any one election cycle.

"Virginia was two years ago - and remains - a two-party state, and the fortunes of the parties can shift significantly," Rozell said, noting that the second Fimian-Connolly race "definitely wasn't supposed to be this close."

In a statement congratulating Hurt on Tuesday night, Perriello said he was "proud" of his record. "Real change is not something that is measured in a year or two; I believe that our actions will ripple out for years to come," Perriello said.

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