RICHMOND, Va. — It was a long election night of high anxiety for supporters of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and his Republican challenger Ed Gillespie before the incumbent edged out a small lead shortly before midnight.
Supporters of Warner watched in disbelief for most of the night at his election party in Crystal City, while supporters of Gillespie at his event in Springfield were caught by surprise with the good results for their candidate and an unexpected close race.
While Warner and his supporters celebrated late at night, Gillespie has yet to concede the race as of Wednesday morning. Warner received 49 percent of the vote and Gillespie 48 percent with just a 12,900 vote difference in the end. Polls before the election had consistently predicted Warner to win decisively with as much as a 10 percent difference.
Libertarian Robert Sarvis received 2 percent with 53,000 votes, which is more than four times than the lead that Warner has over Gillespie.
Warner election party turns from high anxiety to cheers
Supporters of Warner and the Democratic Party of Virginia gathered at the DoubleTree hotel in Crystal City on election night and had to wait several hours until they finally saw their candidate take the lead in the race. Shortly before midnight, Gov. McAuliffe, Sen. Tim Kaine and Warner came back to the stage.
“I told you we’d be back,” McAuliffe told the celebrating supporters. With a razor-thin lead and nearly all polling precincts reporting, Warner finally announced his victory.
“It was a hard-fought race. It went a little longer than we thought,” Warner said. “I’ll work with anyone — Democrat, Republican, Independent, you name it — if we’re going to make sure we get our country’s problems fixed.”
On Wednesday morning, the Virginia Department of Elections had yet to declare an official winner and subsequently Gillespie had not conceded. While Warner supporters at the election party were waiting for the final results to come in, many other elected officials celebrated their own victories, such as Don Beyer in the 8th Congressional District, Gerry Connelly in the 11th District and Bobby Scott in the uncontested 3rd District,
As results trickled in from around the nation, supporters anxiously watched a projector airing CNN, which shortly after 11 p.m. started reporting that Republicans had won the majority in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Many Democratic supporters at the event said they had expected such an outcome.
Virginia Young Democrats campaign manager Charles Bright said there will be lots of work to do towards recovering seats and advocating Democratic causes.
“It’s going to be interesting all around and on so many different levels. It’s going to take a while to absorb all of this,” Bright said. “For an election junkie like myself, it’s something that you relish.”
As the evening came to a close, many supporters left the event not knowing the full results of the senatorial race. Even with the national outlook looking bleak for Democrats and their supporters, state Del. Alfonso Lopez said he is not too worried and is hopeful about the well-being of the country.
“I’m incredibly hopeful. I know a lot of people are feeling uneasy, but I know our policies are strong and we’re right. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished as Democrats in this country,” Lopez said. “I’m looking forward to looking for new candidates in the House of Delegates and the State Senate and finding that next political talent that’s going to take us in the right direction in Virginia making sure we go from a purple state to a solid blue state.”
Gillespie’s supporters between “Go, Ed” chants and heartbreak
When supporters of Gillespie began trickling into the election party at the Springfield Embassy Suites hotel, the Republican quickly gained a 5 to 7 percent lead over Warner. Cheers erupted throughout the evening with every new results report in which Gillespie maintained that lead. Only at the very end of the night when Warner managed to pull ahead did the celebrations end.
Attending Virginia Republicans hung onto the live CNN and Fox News feeds for incoming election results and the loudest cheers came after announcement of the new Republican senate majority after 11 p.m.
State Sen. Mark Obenshain asked Gillespie’s supporters to “keep the faith, keep fighting, because we are Virginia Republicans. We’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to win.”
Gillespie finally took the stage just before midnight, thanking Virginia Republicans for their support and saying he would “accept whatever is the final outcome, but I owe it to the voters of Virginia — and owe it to all of you — to make sure the outcome is final.” Gillespie encouraged voters to get some rest before the race continued on Wednesday.
Jane Ladd, a campaign organizer for Gillespie in New Kent, said that she thought a recount would be inevitable. “We’re tired, we’ve been up early in the morning working the polls,” Ladd said. “We’re trying to get down here to support Ed and we’re working nights, so no supper and no sleep.”
Suzanne Scholte, Republican candidate for Virginia’s 11th district, also attended Gillespie’s election party and gave her own concession speech after losing her election to Democratic incumbent Gerry Connolly.
“We’ve got to continue to reach out to immigrant communities because nobody understands the American dream like those that came here to seek that dream and nobody understands tyranny like those that escaped it,” Scholte said. “That’s what our campaign was about and we were right in our message, we were right in our values and we are right to continue to fight for those values. Nobody ever gave us a chance.”
Libertarians hope for 10, but come in at 2 percent
Libertarian election watch parties in Richmond for senatorial candidate Robert Sarvis and congressional candidate James Carr were held at the Robin Inn restaurant and Haxall Point. While Sarvis was at the Blue Iguana in Fairfax County on election night, his supporters like Joe Enroughty were hoping for a decent percentage of the vote before the results came in.
“I’m hoping he gets 10 percent, I’m rooting for 10 percent. I’d love for him to win,” said Enroughty. “You know we’re trying, we’re going all out to win, but 10 percent would be good, we’d get major party status.
“I’m hoping he runs again, hopefully for governor. I know he’s going to be in the Libertarian movement here in Virginia for a long time to come,” he added. At the end of the night, Sarvis received 2 percent of the vote.
According Sarvis’ campaign, the Libertarian emphasized the success of the Libertarian Party to supporters in Northern Virginia. Sarvis stressed the importance of “fielding a record number of candidates this election cycle and of growing the party, influencing legislation at both the state and federal level, and working to field a full slate of candidates in the 2016 election.”
Although Sarvis did not participate in debates, Libertarian supporters believe the Libertarian party was well represented, particularly among the 18-27 age range. Bob Lynch, former member of the League of Women voters, was disappointed by the way Sarvis was excluded from all Senate debates.
“You cannot have a people’s debate, when you have three candidates and only have two of them. What you are having is a closed, corporately run affair,” said Lynch.
Libertarian 7th Congressional District candidate James Carr believes that once voters stray from “fear-based voting,” there might be more support for the Libertarian party. Although Carr lost his race, he’s positive that the future of the Libertarian Party will continue to look up.
“We’re still seeing a lot of that ‘I’m voting for one side because I’m scared the other will win even though I identify with you more,’” said Carr. “And as soon as we can break that hold, you’re going to see a surge of Libertarian voters.”
“I think that there are still some opportunities for the party itself to change how we address elections in general. The idea that we’re trying to build the party itself is excellent, but I really think that we need to get behind a few solid candidates and get them in office,” Carr said.
This story was reported by Chris Suarez and Eric Arthur from Crystal City; Michael Melkonian and Rachel Mahoney from Springfield; Nicole Czaja, John Hussar and Brianna Graves from Richmond. These student reporters are part of the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.