Democrats Appear to Have Won the Last Election of 2013

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 18 2013 11:59 AM

Democrats Appear to Have Won the Last Election of 2013

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The very probable next attorney general of Virginia, Mark Herring.

Photo by Greg Kahn/Getty Images

The second-to-last election result of this year comes from Alabama, where Republican Bradley Byrne easily took the coastal seat long held by the retired Jo Bonner. The press followed this race during the primary, when a spectacularly unprepared social conservative waved the Gadsden flag and led in some polls. Byrne won that primary by 6 points; he won the general election by a 2–1 margin against a Democrat who spent $6,000. Then he promised that "change" would come to Washington, because that's what every winning candidate says.

The last election, though—that's the one that should have ended six weeks ago. The race for attorney general of Virginia closed late, as Republicans realized that Ken Cuccinelli was blowing the governor's race and Democrats realized that they just needed to say the C-word in order to drag down Republican candidate Mark Obenshain. On election night, the GOP held on to a small lead—then a smaller lead, then a smaller lead, then no lead at all as Democrat Mark Herring ran ahead by 165 votes. Obenshain asked for a recount, which was fair enough in a race that close despite 2 million total votes cast.

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The recount is not going his way. With 1,441 of 2,558 precincts recounted, Herring has more than trebled his lead, to 686 votes. Republicans might have taken solace in how the first counted precincts all came from Herring's Northern Virginia base. But the overall trend benefits Herring. A typical Republican stronghold, Virginia Beach found an equal amount of new Herring and Obenshain votes. York County, smaller but stronger for Obenshain, gave a net of 15 votes to Herring. Meanwhile, in Fairfax County alone, Herring scored 366 new votes. When you look at what's out, you see promising caches of Obenshain votes in places like Rockingham, but plenty of urban Herring votes still waiting to be counted.

How does this end? If Herring wins by, say, 324 votes, he'll have a larger lead than Bob McDonnell in his 2005 race for AG against poor Creigh Deeds. Obenshain's got the right to challenge the election in the state assembly. Republicans run the state assembly. But he'd be in the position of asking the state to overturn the election results in a race not quite as close as the one the party rightfully won eight years earlier.

Obenshain's legal team, asked about a possible challenge, has ruled nothing out. It needs to keep up speculation that something went fishy in Fairfax County. Right now, though, it looks like Democrats will end the year with their first sweep of all Virginia statewide offices since 1989.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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