Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) was elected Virginia's next governor Tuesday, defeating Republican Jerry Kilgore and Independent Russ Potts in a tight race to succeed the popular Gov. Mark Warner (D).
Kaine, 47, was elected with 51.7 percent of the vote, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial election returns Tuesday night.
Democrats had a good day in the House of Delegates, picking up three seats in Northern Virginia. "We got rid of some real stinkers in the House of Delegates," said Del. Ken Plum (D-36). "This is truly, truly, truly a sweet, sweet night."
Democrats cheered the downfall of conservative Del. Dick Black (R-32), who was unseated by Democrat David Poisson in Loudoun. They also celebrated the election of Democrats Dave Marsden in southern Fairfax County and Chuck Caputo in western Fairfax, flipping those seats from the GOP.
Northern Virginia appears to have played a pivotal role in Kaine's victory Tuesday, with the Democrat receiving more than 60 percent of Fairfax County's vote.
The cornerstone of Kaine's campaign was a promise to keep Virginia on the course set by Warner, who cannot run for re-election because of the commonwealth's one-term limit.
Touting what he called the "Warner/Kaine budget reform," Kaine ran on the 2004 budget compromise that increased taxes by $1.34 billion and increased state spending on education and public safety.
Kaine pointed to last year's budget action Ñ which increased education funding in Fairfax County by $19.9 million Ñ as an example of the financial governance he will continue as governor.
"He's going to move us forward Ñ both Fairfax County and Virginia," said Ginny Peters, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. "Tim Kaine will advance our education agenda, our children's health care necessities and fix our transportation problems."
On education, Kaine promised he will expand early childhood education programs, working to ensure high-quality pre-kindergarten classes are available to all 4-year-olds in Virginia.
Kaine's transportation plan calls for connecting land-use and transportation decisions, which he said will ensure that infrastructure keeps pace with development.
His transportation plan also calls for locking up the state's transportation trust fund, which is often used for other expenditures. Kaine said he will also seek to provide state support for public transportation, such as Metro.
Republicans are skeptical that Kaine will solve any of Northern Virginia's gridlock troubles.
"He ran as Mark Warner Part Two. And Part One didn't get transportation moving in Fairfax County," said Eric Lundberg, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. "As governor, Tim Kaine will just be more of the same."
This year's race to the governor's mansion was the most expensive contest in Virginia's history, with candidates raising more than $42 million.
Altogether, the candidates collected nearly one-third more than the $31.7 million raised in the 2001 governor's race.
The gubernatorial race was also among the most negative elections in recent memory, said Mark Rozell, a politics professor at George Mason University. "It was one of the nastiest campaigns in Virginia's modern history Ñ no doubt about it," he said.
As an example, Rozell pointed to Kilgore's TV ads that asserted Kaine would not have sought the death penalty for Hitler. Both sides, he said, sought to suppress voter turnout through campaign trickery, including mailers and phone calls falsely purporting to be from the opponent's campaign.
Kaine's win Tuesday may have been assisted by the sinking approval ratings of the national GOP and President George W. Bush, who campaigned with Kilgore as recently as Monday.
"Democrats have been feeling energized by Bush's downward approval trend," Rozell said. "This election was their chance to showcase that the Democrats are still alive."
Del. Dave Albo (R-42), who was re-elected Tuesday night, said Bush's slumping approval rating hurt the GOP.
"It's impossible to run and win [an open seat] when George Bush's approval is at 37 percent," he said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) agreed. "Virginia usually does this [vote's against the president's party] to send a message to the president."
Bill Bolling, a Republican member of the Virginia Senate from Hanover County, was elected lieutenant governor Tuesday, defeating Democrat Leslie Byrne of Fairfax County.
Bolling, 48, won the race with 50.8 percent of the vote, with 97 percent of the state's precincts reporting, according to unofficial election returns.
Bolling has pledged to increase state spending for education and transportation, though he promised to do so without raising taxes. He wants to use the state's $2 billion surplus for transportation projects, as well as encourage more public-private partnerships to accelerate road construction.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S race, as of Wednesday morning, remained too close to call.
Democrat Creigh Deeds, a state senator from central Virginia, had 49.9 percent of the vote, while Republican Bob McDonnell had 50 percent of the vote Ñ with 2,423 of 2,426 precincts reporting.
Deeds, a 47-year-old attorney, has served in the General Assembly since 1982. A resident of Bath County, he is known as a moderate Democrat, notably endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
McDonnell, a 51-year-old attorney and former U.S. Army officer, has served in the House of Delegates since 1992.
With both candidates locked in a race that is too close to call, a recount is expected to determine Virignia's next attorney general.
Connection reporters Jason Hartke and Ari Cetron contributed to this story.