On election night, it took David E. Poisson hours to accept that he might actually defeat veteran Del. Richard H. "Dick" Black.
After a full day of greeting voters and shaking hands outside Stone Bridge High School, Poisson joined relatives and friends near Ashburn to await results. The phone rang for the first time about 7:45. The news was good: Six precincts were in, all for Poisson. An hour later, his campaign manager called with reports from another six precincts. "They all went our way," Poisson said.
Still, the Democrat was nervous, waiting for the bigger precincts to release numbers. By the time he headed out to greet supporters at an Irish pub in Sterling, after 9 p.m., he had heard the news from 19 out of 20 precincts. All but two had gone for Poisson.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised," he said Thursday of the sweeping result.
The lawyer and government relations consultant had contested only one election before, an ill-fated try in 2003 for a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. He lost the Democratic Party's firehouse primary by a vote of 11 to 4 to a woman who declared her candidacy at the last minute.
Yet two years later, he unseated Black, a four-term Republican incumbent with a well-known reputation as a conservative, and drew 53 percent of the vote in what has been considered a GOP stronghold. He even outpolled the top of the Democratic ticket, Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine, in 13 of the district's 20 precincts.
The result left observers scratching their heads, trying to understand why District 32, which went easily to President Bush a year ago, turned against a Vietnam veteran who has been among the most anti-tax, anti-abortion voices in the House of Delegates in favor of a pro-choice candidate who supports gay rights.
"The electorate was much more focused on outcomes than ideology," Poisson said. "It was [about] who was the candidate most likely to get things accomplished. Who is going to be most likely to get things that we need in terms of higher education? Who is going to get us roads to build mass transit systems? The issues of who is in the best position to give us moral guidance fell away."
Poisson said that after a five-day vacation to Palm Beach, Fla., with his wife, Laura, and their 14-year-old daughter, Kate, he will begin preparing for the 60-day General Assembly session, which commences Jan. 11. Poisson said he intends to meet with people across the eastern Loudoun district, gathering ideas about how to tackle some of the issues that are most important to residents -- in particular, transportation, which he called a top priority.
"Clearly the message that was sent Tuesday for everyone who won was to go down and fix these roads," Poisson said.
He said he would focus on such major arteries as Route 7 and the Dulles Greenway and look more specifically at widening some roads and "working harder to promote telecommuting rather than just talking about it."
Poisson said he also wants to put his ideas for education reform into play. For months, he told voters he thought the state should require potential teachers to have degrees in the subjects they teach, and he said he thinks salary schedules for teachers should be reevaluated so that teachers aren't stuck behind the pay scales of administrators.
At the college level, he said, he wants to raise the caps on enrollment at state universities so that the growing numbers of graduates from Loudoun high schools will be able to secure admission.
"I think it's time to shake things up and see what we can do differently," he said.
Debbie Hawk, a mother of three and a Cascades resident for 14 years, said that Poisson's focus on issues that affect families -- "like education and getting home in time to get to your kid's soccer game" -- made him a popular candidate with women.
She said Poisson also found favor among voters who were turned off by some of Black's campaign tactics -- from mispronouncing his opponent's name, calling him "David Poison" (instead of pwah-SAHN) to labeling him a "staunch homosexual advocate." Such gestures led her and several other women to organize a group that circulated pro-Poisson e-mails and distributed 6,000 fliers in the final weeks of the race.
Campaigners for Black said that Poisson's campaign also partook in negative tactics, and Black maintained that he would not have done anything differently in his campaign.
"It was a very positive, issues-based campaign," Black said.
He attributed his loss to "political winds that blow these days," namely dissatisfaction with the Bush administration over its response to Hurricane Katrina, high gas prices and the war in Iraq.
"These things turn around. You had to have a Jimmy Carter before you had a Ronald Reagan," said Black, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 1998.
Other Black supporters looked to the gubernatorial campaign for explanations. Suzanne Volpe, a Cascades resident who was co-chairman of the Loudoun campaign for Republican candidate Jerry W. Kilgore, suggested that Poisson won votes on Kaine's coattails.
A volunteer on Black's campaign said he thought that not just potential swing votes but conservative votes, too, could have been swayed by the gubernatorial race.
"A lot of people viewed Kilgore as leaning moderate. I think some of the conservative stronghold stayed home," said Michael Meador, a novelist and Second Amendment activist. He noted, for example, that Kilgore could have taken a stronger stand against the law that restricts Virginians to one gun purchase a month.
Poisson said some of his widest margins of victory came from new Loudoun voters. The final precinct to report results Tuesday night was Seldens Landing, where the new communities of Lansdowne and Leisure World gave him 1,110 votes compared with 853 for Black.
Poisson said many of the county's newcomers come from diverse backgrounds and don't necessarily subscribe to a particular political party. But they responded to the same issues that resonated throughout the county.
"These are very pragmatic, moderate voters who just want to live good, wholesome lives, see their kids do well and hopefully get some traffic relief," Poisson said.