By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Va., Nov 5 (Reuters) - Democratic Party insiderTerry McAuliffe won the Virginia governor's race on Tuesday bynarrowly beating Republican Ken Cuccinelli, a Tea Party favoritewho seized on the rocky launch of the U.S. healthcare program totry to keep the contest close.
State election board results showed McAuliffe, a Democraticfundraiser and close friend of former President Bill Clinton,had 48 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Cuccinelli,Virginia's attorney general, with almost all precinctsreporting.
McAuliffe squeaked to a win in the Southern state with astrong showing from wealthy, liberal-leaning Washington suburbs.His victory cemented Virginia as a battleground state for bothparties ahead of midterm congressional elections next year andthe presidential election in 2016.
McAuliffe, who had never held elected office, told cheeringsupporters in Tysons Corner, a Washington suburb, that the racehad never been simply choosing between Democrats andRepublicans.
"It was a choice between whether Virginia would continue themainstream bipartisan tradition that has served us so well overthe last decade," he said, his voice hoarse.
Record amounts of outside money flowed into the campaign asMcAuliffe heavily outspent Cuccinelli and national Democraticfigures attempted to make the vote a referendum on the TeaParty, a small-government wing of the Republican Party.
Trailing in polls, Cuccinelli, 45, attacked President BarackObama's signature healthcare program, which has been plaguedwith technical difficulties since its Oct. 1 launch, andnarrowed McAuliffe's lead. McAuliffe supports the law known asObamacare.
A CNN exit poll showed that 53 percent of Virginia votersopposed Obamacare, including four in five of those castingballots for Cuccinelli.
In his concession speech, Cuccinelli said of the healthcareplan, "We were lied to by our own government in an effort torestrict our liberties."
McAuliffe, 56, tied Cuccinelli to last month's federalgovernment shutdown, blamed by most Americans on Republicans andespecially the Tea Party. Virginia was hit hard by the shutdownsince it relies more than most states on federal paychecks andcontracts.
Cuccinelli also was hurt by a scandal involving Virginia'sRepublican governor, Bob McDonnell, who is under investigationfor taking gifts from a businessman. Cuccinelli apologized inSeptember for taking gifts from the same businessman.
Under state law, McDonnell could not run for a secondconsecutive term.
"All the things that could go wrong for the Republicans didgo wrong. What was striking was how close it was with all theheadwinds the Republicans had," said Stephen Farnsworth, apollster and political analyst at the University of MaryWashington in Fredericksburg.
Libertarian Robert Sarvis got 7 percent of the vote, thebest showing by a third-party candidate in the state since 1965.
McAuliffe, who has said he has 18,632 names on his Rolodex,raised about $34 million to Cuccinelli's $20 million, accordingto the money-tracking Virginia Public Access Project.
McAuliffe outspent Cuccinelli 10-to-1 on televisionadvertising in the final weeks of the campaign, the AccessProject said.
Underscoring the national interest in the race, about 70percent of the money raised came from outside the state. That isby far the highest percentage ever for any U.S. gubernatorialrace, according to the nonpartisan National Institute on Moneyin State Politics, in Helena, Montana.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Ralph Northam,a 54-year-old state senator from Norfolk, easily defeatedRepublican E.W. Jackson, a 61-year-old minister from Chesapeake.
Conservative Republican state Senator Mark Obenshain beatDemocratic state Senator Mark Herring for attorney general.
- Politics & Government
- Ken Cuccinelli