Ed Gillespie will not seek a recount in his tight race for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Mark R. Warner (D), conceding defeat Friday in a campaign that positioned the Republican well for another run for statewide office in Virginia.
The race was surprisingly tight as Gillespie rode a wave of GOP enthusiasm that flipped control of the Senate and raised questions about the extent of Warner’s appeal in a changing Virginia. Gillespie seized on voter discontent with business in Washington and effectively portrayed Warner as an insider.
Warner had claimed victory Tuesday night, but Gillespie held off on any concession until the ongoing canvass of votes across the commonwealth showed him to be further behind than on election night. Gillespie said he had a “nice conversation” with Warner on Friday morning.
“This obviously was a hard-fought race, and I’m proud of the campaign we have run and I loved every minute of it,” he said, winning applause from supporters gathered at a Springfield banquet hall. Pausing for a beat, he added to laughter: “Well, maybe not this one so much.”
Gillespie became emotional toward the end of his announcement, and his wife, Cathy, fought back tears when he thanked her and their three children.
“It would have been nice to be called senator, but the best thing I’ve ever been called is Dad,” he said.
In a statement, Warner commended Gillespie on a “hard-fought campaign” and said he would focus in his second term on trying to reduce the deficit and avoid further budget cuts due to sequestration.
“On Tuesday, Virginians sent an unmistakable message both to me and Congress as a whole: End the gridlock and get to work,” he said. “I will spend every day working to get the Senate back in the business of solving problems and not simply scoring political points. I will work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, to shake up this dysfunctional Congress and move us toward common ground.”
An election attorney for Warner’s campaign said Thursday that at last count, Gillespie was trailing by 16,761 votes out of more than 2 million cast.
In accordance with the usual process, a statewide canvass of votes is scheduled to conclude Tuesday but will not be certified until Nov. 24, according to the Department of Elections.
Gillespie is a former head of the Republican National Committee and was a political adviser to former president George W. Bush. He began his campaign trailing by double digits in the polls to Warner, a former governor generally regarded as the most popular politician in Virginia. But voters in southwest Virginia, who had supported him in his previous campaigns, abandoned him Tuesday and went for Gillespie.
In addition to shocking experts who predicted that Warner would cruise to reelection, Gillespie, also a former lobbyist who was making his first bid for elective office, impressed fellow Republicans by running a mostly positive campaign. He also sought to unite a state GOP deeply divided between establishment and tea party forces.
“Ed’s positive demeanor and leadership strengthened our cause and unified our party,” House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said. “He built a strong coalition that brought together Republicans of all stripes. He made inroads with the important and growing minority communities that deserve to be involved in the political process. Because of his efforts, Republicans across Virginia are well positioned for the future.”
Some have said Gillespie could turn his near miss into a campaign for governor in 2017 or assume another leadership role within the party. Gillespie left his concession announcement without taking questions, but that did not stop supporters from speculating about his future.
“I would support him for governor, 100 percent,” said Joan Quill, 71, who attended the speech with her twin sister, Jane, of Fairfax.
“We really need knowledgeable people with a focus on issues and getting things done, and that is the type of person that he is,” Jane Quill said.
The women said they were surprised by the close outcome in the Senate race but credited a “quantum shift” in Republican power felt elsewhere. “I thought he ran an extremely positive campaign,” Joan Quill said.
Sounding like a man who was not quite done with politics, Gillespie in his announcement Friday reiterated his campaign platform, highlighting his desire to create jobs in Virginia, bring down health-care costs and reduce energy prices. After starting the race as an underdog who was outspent 2-to-1, Gillespie said he marveled at the final result.
“In the end, a shift of 9,000 votes could have changed the outcome of this election. And, if I believed there were any conceivable way that we can find a viable path to win through a recount, I’d fight as hard as I have for the past 10 months of this campaign for our polices and our principles,” he said.
“But I ran because I love our country and our commonwealth, and it would be wrong to put my fellow Virginians through a recount when in my head and in my heart I know a change in the outcome is not possible.”