Mark Herring, a 44-year-old attorney and former Loudoun County Supervisor, was elected Tuesday to the Virginia Senate, flipping a GOP stronghold from Republican to Democratic hands.
Herring won the district decisively with 61.6 percent of the special election's vote, defeating Republican D.M. "Mick" Staton Jr., who represents the Sugarland Run District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
The 33rd District Senate seat was vacated in January by Republican Bill Mims, who stepped down after serving seven years in the Senate to become Virginia's deputy attorney general.
Herring carried every one of the district's 52 polling places in Loudoun County and western Fairfax County.
He is the first Democrat to represent the area in the Senate since his stepfather, Charlie Waddell, left the Senate in 1998 to become Virginia's deputy secretary of transportation.
Voter turnout was fairly light Tuesday, with only 20,087, or 13.7 percent, of the district's 147,102 registered voters casting a ballot.
At his victory party at the Old Dominion Brewery in Ashburn, Herring pledged to several hundred supporters that he would focus on core issues like growth management, transportation and education during his tenure.
"I think we obviously have a mandate here," he said. "The voters of this district would like someone who has the right priorities."
Herring was expected to start work in Richmond on Wednesday, the morning after his victory. "Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we govern," he said. "In my case, that is literally true."
Nearby, at Kirkpatrick's Irish Pub in Ashburn, Staton conceded defeat as the election returns rolled in. "I congratulate Mr. Herring," he said. "I hope he represents the district well."
HERRING'S VICTORY is the latest in a wave of recent Democratic wins across Northern Virginia.
In last November's gubernatorial election, voters in Fairfax and Loudoun counties lifted Gov. Tim Kaine (D) over his Republican opponent, Jerry Kilgore.
And Loudoun voters on Nov. 8 kicked out Dick Black, Staton's staunchly conservative father-in-law, in favor of Del. David Poisson (D-32). In addition to Poisson, Democrats won four other House of Delegates races in Northern Virginia last fall.
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (I) said Herring's win may portend trouble for Republicans on the Board. "I think what you are seeing is a lot of disgust with the current Board of Supervisors and their managing growth," he said.
Political observers around the commonwealth were closely watching the results of Tuesday's Senate race, as the key issues in Loudoun are also key issues being considered by the General Assembly, said Mark Rozell, a George Mason University politics professor.
"Most of these races have been about local candidates and local issues. But this time, it just so happens that the local issues are playing statewide — growth and development," he said.
During Kaine's campaign he pledged to attack Virginia's transportation problem, and to more closely tie land-use decisions with transportation infrastructure.
This election is the first, however, since Kaine proposed a series of tax and fee increases, which will generate about $4 billion over four years for transportation. A group of Republican senators also made a proposal, which would generate the same amount of money through a different series of increases.
Herring's successful Senate bid, Rozell said, could embolden Democrats and moderate Republicans to push forward with transportation and land use reforms.
DURING THE LIGHTNING-PACED campaign, Herring sought to link Staton with the views of Black, who had been a vocal opponent of abortion and gay rights during his years in the House of Delegates.
Herring's supporters are hopeful the Democrat will strike out on a centrist course, focusing on government service issues such as transportation over social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
"We really feel like Mark Herring is a moderate just like Chuck Caputo, just like David Poisson and just like Tim Kaine," said Mary Lee Cerillo, the Sully District Chairwoman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. "He's a uniter who can reach across the aisle."
Herring "represents the principles of the majority" of Loudoun County, said Loudoun County Democratic Chairman Thom Beres.
"He's a reasonable person who can work with both Democrats and Republicans," he said.
HEAVY HITTERS from both the Republican and Democratic camps traveled to the 33rd Senate District in recent weeks to lend their nominees a hand.
Herring's campaign was aided by visits from major Democratic officials — most notably Waddell and Kaine, who delivered Tuesday evening the response to President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address.
For Staton, U.S. Sen. George Allen (R), Attorney General Robert McDonnell (R), U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), Deputy Attorney General Mims and Black all campaigned on his behalf.
Black, who played a key role in Staton's campaign, said Republicans must start sticking to core conservative principles — like opposing tax increases — if the GOP wants to start winning elections again.
"You can't just simply walk away from your base and expect them to show up on election day," Black said.