Updated: 9:56 p.m.
Republican Bob McDonnell was decisively elected Virginia’s next governor on Tuesday, giving his party a major boost in a state where Democrats had made major gains in recent elections.
McDonnell, a former state attorney general and state legislator, had 59 percent of the vote with about 95 percent of votes counted shortly before 10 p.m., to easily outpace state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D), who had 39 percent.
When McDonnell takes office in January, it will end eight years of Democratic reign. He will succeed Tim Kaine, who helped plot party strategy in the race as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“Bob McDonnell’s victory gives Republicans tremendous momentum heading into 2010,— Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said in a statement.
Democratic strategists will view McDonnell’s sweeping victory as a reminder of the need to energize the party base ahead of the 2010 midterm elections, when comeback-minded Republicans will be challenging numerous Democratic incumbents across the nation, including Virginia Democratic freshman Reps. Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello — both of whom defeated Republican incumbents last year.
The National Republican Congressional Committee wasted little time trumpeting the results in Virginia as a foreshadowing of what could be to come for Democrats representing conservative areas next year.
“This is an ominous sign for those Democrats representing districts carried by both John McCain and Bob McDonnell,— NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. “Creigh Deeds provided the evidence when he attacked the administration’s job-killing cap-and-trade bill in TV ads that were broadcast in the districts of vulnerable Congressional Democrats who supported this key aspect of the Obama-Pelosi agenda.—
Buoyed by a strong showing among independents, McDonnell is poised to win by one of the biggest margins in recent Virginia history. The last gubernatorial candidate in Virginia to win more than 60 percent of the vote was Albertis Harrison Jr. (D) in 1961, when he won 64 percent.
History was on McDonnell’s side on Tuesday.
In recent decades, the party that took over the White House has lost the governor’s election the following year. The last time Virginia elected a governor of the same party that had just won the White House was in 1973.
Still, President Barack Obama campaigned for Deeds in early August and again last week in an effort to end that tradition.
Since Obama carried the state with 53 percent of the vote in 2008, the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey were being closely watched as potential indicators of the mood that members of Congress will face when they stand for election next year.
Most voters told pollsters that Obama wasn’t a factor in their choice for governor. According to a CNN exit poll, 55 percent of voters said that Obama didn’t influence their vote for governor, compared to 24 percent who said they voted to express their opposition to Obama and 18 percent who said that they voted to express their support for the president.
Kaine, speaking Monday on MSNBC, said that “these races right after the presidential year are very focused on local issues and haven’t been much of a bellwether for the midterms.—