TYSONS CORNER, Va.—The acrimonious campaign for Virginia governor ended Nov. 5 with the victory of Terry McAuliffe over state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
“Thank you, Virginia,” McAuliffe said via Twitter.
It was a close vote, even though McAauliffe had led his opponent in fundraising about two to one.
Early in the evening Cuccinelli took the lead, but when the populous urban county results arrived, McAuliffe wound up with a tiny margin of victory. He had 971,921 votes, or 47.39 percent, versus Cuccinelli’s 938,965 votes, or 45.80 percent, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Board of Elections.
The third party candidate, Robert Sarvis, got only 6.61 percent of the vote.
McAuliffe will succeed term-limited Gov. Bob McDonnell in January. It is the first time since 1977 that a gubernatorial candidate from the same party as the president won the governor’s race.
National attention focused on the race as a predictor of each party’s fortunes in the 2014 midterm elections, when the makeup of Congress could shift. The Democratic candidate portrayed himself as a centrist who could and would work with conservatives, while his opponent ran as a tea party Republican.
McAuliffe is a long-term friend of the Clintons, a fundraiser for Democrats, and a former national Democratic Party chairman. He painted Cuccinelli as an extremist and anti-women for his conservative social views.
Medicaid Expansion Likely
McAuliffe ran for governor in 2009 and lost. This will be his first elected office. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for him. He pledged to accept the federal expansion of Medicaid if elected. Virginia is one of 26 states that rejected the Medicaid expansion, which is an optional part of the Affordable Care Act.
Tea Party Rejected
As Virginia’s attorney general, Cuccinelli was the first in the country to file a suit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. He was aligned with the tea party and made his campaign a referendum on the health law.
A pair of tea party heroes supported him. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida campaigned for him. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky asked voters to ignore Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis in favor of Cuccinelli. His father, tea party hero and former congressman Ron Paul also campaigned for Cuccinelli.
Other Republicans found Cuccinelli too extreme. Thomas Wolfe, 56, said he is a staunch Republican, but was turned off by some of Cuccinelli’s positions.
The race was driven by negative ads, unrelenting accusations of dodgy behavior, and a deep rancor between rivals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.