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Rep. Ed Gillespie concedes US Senate race to Dem. Mark Warner

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Posted at 1:18 PM, Nov 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-07 15:03:52-05

[ooyala code=”NpMzNscToh1p9DS5w2Uutw7GyhUAVPdR” player_id=”6c21d43b06ee4460a29e40d9542c86ae”]RICHMOND, Va. — On Friday Republican challenger Ed Gillespie conceded the election for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat to incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Warner.

The race became a surprisingly tight nail-biter Tuesday night, with Gillespie leading the early returns and each wave of poll results slowly showing Warner closing the gap .  While Warner was the leader when the votes were tallied, the anxiety continued through the week, because he led with just under one percent of the total vote.

With 99.96% of votes counted, according to the State Board of Elections, Warner led by 16,540 votes. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis garnered 2.43% of votes, or 52,984 votes — or more than two times the amount with which Warner led the race.

Undaunted, Gov. Terry McAullife took the stage on Election Night, after 11:30 p.m., to introduce  Warner as the winner.

Gillespie spoke shortly after Warner, but did not concede victory.

“Unfortunately some campaigns last longer than others,” he said on Tuesday. “We know that there will be a canvass that commences tomorrow,

“There are still some precincts remaining out as well, and obviously this is a very close race; .6 of one percent, I think, was the last count,” Gillespie said election night.  “So we’re going to be patient here, and I believe that we need to be respectful of the voters, and I clearly want to be respectful of all the work that you have done.”

On Friday, Gillespie told reporters he had called Senator Mark Warner to congratulate him.  He addressed a group of staffers, friends, family and reporters from Springfield, Va.

“I hope my campaign helps foster an even greater relationship between the traditional Liberty movement and Tea Party Republicans going forward and that our party continues to rally behind nominees no matter what door they have come into the process through,” Gillespie said, mentioning that the media has “demonized” the Tea Party. He said that initially Tea Party supporters were skeptical of his campaign, until they became better acquainted.

“We could not have gotten this close in this election, if we didn’t take our positive message to voters who haven’t traditionally supported Republicans,” he said.

Gillespie also noted that their campaign, who reached out to voters through a total of seven languages, visited places “too long taken for granted.” “We went to ethnic festivals, black churches, college campuses, Islamic centers, homeless shelters, food banks and the recovery community,” he said. “And in getting to know one another better it was clear that their concerns were my concerns, and my concerns were their concerns.”

“Those efforts paid off, and as a party we need to carry them forward.”

“We were a policy driven campaign,” Gillespie said as he thanked his staffers for coming up with innovative policies. “We raised a lot of money for a campaign that no one thought had a chance.”

What happened to Mark Warner? 

In 2001, Warner won Russell County by 21 points. In his 2008 Senate race, he won it by 33. But on Tuesday, he lost Russell by 23 points.

The Washington Post reported that even his own advisers were urging Warner to make more direct appeals to unmarried women and African-Americans on top of his usual bipartisan rhetoric and conservative outreach. It might have made Tuesday’s margin, around 17,000 votes for now, more comfortable.

Certainly the 2014 midterms were a bloodbath for Democrats everywhere, and swing-y Virginia was hardly immune.

“In a wave, even Jesus will have problems, and Mark Warner is as close as you get to Jesus in Virginia politics,” said another Democrat who has labored on several Virginia statewide campaigns. “No one is immune to national waves, especially purple states like this.”

Looking at it another way, Warner was the only statewide Democrat on a ballot in the South to win an election on Tuesday. Or as one strategist close to the Warner campaign put it: “Who else but Mark Warner could have survived a Republican tidal wave?”

Still, after the results starting coming in, Virginia Democrats who have worked on other statewide campaigns said they were mystified at Warner’s approach.

“This is a base turnout state now,” said one strategist who wondered why Warner was spending time on the trail with a white, 87-year old Republican ex-Senator instead of bringing in African-American surrogates for the final push.

Wrong political polls indicate the old ways of polling aren’t suited to new times

It wasn’t just the Ed Gillespie/Mark Warner Senate race in Virginia that pollsters missed, and it’s been a notable issue the previous two election cycles.

Bad polls can actually change the result by discouraging voter turnout and shift campaign spending. Polls are also a crucial way of gauging what citizens are concerned about, and therefore,  where politicians focus their energies.

Geoffrey Skelley with University of Virginia’s Center for Politics said “the fact that it missed in a lot of different places would suggest there’s something more to  this . . . Pollsters are faced with, if not a crisis, they’re moving in that direction. It’s getting harder and harder to do what they do.”

Pollsters don’t want to get it wrong. Their accuracy is their credibility.

So, they’re going to have to get creative: Tap into social media, meet people where they’re comfortable – a polling app, for example.

This last cycle there was more online polling, Skelley said. For example, the New York Times partnered with an internet polling firm. “I don’t know if anyone has done a deep dive just yet on how effective that new form was. But it’s probably the direction that pollsters are going to have to go,” he said.

Political analyst Bob Holsworth said “the notion of polling being done by just sending out some questionnaires, getting a phone room in which 300 people, or 50 people, are going to be calling 500 people in Virginia, I think we’re going to see that go by the wayside in the next 10 years.”

Read more of Holmberg’s report here. 

***CNN reporting and Mark Holmberg contributed to this report***