IT'S OVER. President Obama has won the 2012 election; he has also won the battleground state of Virginia, where late results from northern VA gave him an increasing margin of victory as votes are tallied.
As voters headed to the polls on Tuesday, both parties had reason to hope that Virginia would go their way. Polling showed that President Obama had regained a slight lead; but with only a +1 lead on average, the race remains well within the nail-biting margin.
Pundits projected that election results may not be clear until after midnight on Tuesday, as races like Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Ohio came down to intensely narrow margins. However, pundit Mike Allen was only 36 minutes off the mark and the race was called by the networks by 11:36pm. Democrat Tim Kaine won a seat in the US Senate an hour earlier as the northern Virginia votes began to come in, and as voters were still waiting in line at 11pm in heavily blue parts of the state, it seems that the momentum has shifted leftward.
Late voting means that the tallies are still coming in, so we'll be back with more updates. The numbers have been steadily climbing in the President's favor as the night wore on, and were 50.09-48.32 for Obama with a 63,405 vote lead at 12:40am with 97.64 percent of precincts reporting. The New York Times called Virginia for Obama shortly after midnight Eastern time; NPR followed shortly after.
On a separate note, shortly after midnight gay marriage has passed by referendum in the state of Maryland.
12:53pm - Romney Concedes to Obama | After losing key battleground states, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has called President Barack Obama to concede the race.
11:30pm - The Lead Shifts: Obama Now Ahead in VA | With 93 percent of precincts reporting, President Obama now leads 49.66 to 48.74 percent over Gov. Romney.
10:55pm - Allen Concedes Senate Race to Tim Kaine | In a graceful speech, former Virginia Governor George Allen has conceded victory to former Governor Tim Kaine in the race for th US Senate. We might take back what we said about the provisional ballots and go with the conventional wisdom now - but in Dumfries, people are still waiting to vote (about 40 according to local news). Voters were kept refreshed with water and pizza while they waited 4 hours after polls closed; voters had to be in line by 7pm in order to cast their ballots.
10:50pm - Getting Tighter as Northern Virginia Votes Come In | Kaine and Allen are still neck-and-neck with a slight lead for Kaine (appearing to grow) as Kaine leads with approximately 34,000 votes in the raw count with 85 percent of precincts reporting. Again, hundreds of thousands of votes remain to be counted in Northern Virginia. A word of warning: Virginia's new voter ID law produced a lot of provisional ballots today, and if this race is still a contest at the end of the night, that could be a factor that draws it out. The conventional wisdom seems to be swinging away from that, but it's worth remembering. Romney leads 49.8 to 48.79 percent with 85 percent reporting; those numbers are projected to swing blue as the remainder of precincts report, although expect to see a more purple mix in the Hampton Roads area.
10:30pm - Nail-Biter Counties | Several Virginia counties have come down to extremely narrow counts in the presidential race. In Southeast Virginia, Montgomery County shows a 49-48 lead for Romney with 96 percent reporting; in Loudon County, one of the 'purple' areas in northern Virginia, the President leads 51-47 percent with 95 percent reporting; in Prince William County, also in Northern Virginia, it's a dead heat at 49-49. There's still a lot of votes to count; NBC reports that more than 500,000 votes may still need to be counted in Northern Virginia where people were still waiting to vote well into the night.
10:20pm - Kaine Takes Lead for Senate Seat | With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Tim Kaine has opened up a very slight lead over George Allen for the first time tonight in the race for the US Senate. Democrat Jim Webb elected to retire after a single term in office; the race between the two Virginians has been at the top of the "must watch" list throughout the duration of the 2012 cycle. Romney is still leading Obama with a narrowing margin, currently 50-48 percent. CBS currently projects Kaine will win the Senate seat; most concur that it's too close to call at this point.
10:00pm - Henrico County Goes to Obama | One of the top 7 counties to watch nationwide, Henrico County (not including Richmond City) is going 53-46 for President Obama w/ 94 percent reporting; Richmond City votes 76 percent for Obama. That margin is smaller than the 12-point lead Obama earned in 2008, but still significant to those looking for a bellweather to judge other regions up for grabs this year. As New Hampshire, Michigan and Wisconsin have already been called for Obama, these numbers are starting to look representative of where the nation is headed: not the same mandate as 2008, but it's possible that this race will be decided with clearer margins than expected earlier today.
9:50pm - 2nd Congressional District Is One to Watch | Pundits don't expect to see Republican Scott Ridell lose to Democrat Paul Hirschbeil tonight, but this race was on the DCCC target list early on in the election cycle. It's still early (52 of 172 precincts reporting), but the 53-46 margin at 9:40pm will likely keep this race on the Democrats' radar for 2014 and 2016. The 2nd District covers parts of Tidewater, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake; it doesn't include Newport News or Portsmouth, and effectively splits voters working at Oceana Naval Air Base and Naval Station Norfolk.
9:25pm - Virginia May Vote Until 11pm | Local NBC news is reporting that Virginians may be voting until 11pm tonight due to long lines. Voters who got in line by 7pm (closing) can stay in line and vote; campaigns are urgently texting voters to tell them to stay in line and cast their ballots.
9:18pm - Margins Narrow in Senate Race | With 62% of precincts reporting, the margin is narrowing between Kaine and Allen for Virginia's Senate seat: 51-49
9:10pm - Who to Follow | Thanks to PolicyMic editor Chris Miles for this tip: check out The New Republic's liveblog of tonight's results w/ some interesting material for Virginia. Another one to watch: American Prospect writer and Virginian Jamelle Bouie @jbouie and the wonks usually appreciate Ezra Klein's take on WaPo's Wonkblog. Covering a wide range of races is political reporter Amanda Terkel (and you can see how her alter ego, @TerkelRage, is handling its anger issues tonight). Women can deliver election analysis and rhetoric too, y'all. (Wouldn't know it if you're watching NBC or almost any network or cable coverage. A quick spot-check just now produced 2 women reporting or commentating; the rest were men. All were white. That's not representative of everyone who has been on air tonight, but it's still worth noting. Also haven't seen anyone under the age of 35 commentate in primetime except Ezra Klein, who doesn't count b/c he was born at the voting age of 18.)
8:45pm - Senate Race Too Close to Call | The hotly contested race for Senator Jim Webb's (D-Va) seat is still too close to call. Although Congressional races are producing results more-or-less as expected so far, the Senate race is currently split 53% to 47% in favor of Republican George Allen. Democrat Tim Kaine is expected to pick up more votes in the northern Virginia and Hampton Roads areas; most of those precincts have not yet reported.
8:30pm - Down the Ballot, Cantor Re-Elected | Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Va) was re-elected to represent the 7th Congressional District. The House Majority Leader has played a major leadership role in the 112th Congress and has been a stalwart figure against Democratic leadership and (occasionally) his own Speaker, John Boehner.
8:18pm - Long lines delay vote tally | Virginia's Board of Elections paused reporting until 8pm because many voters were still in line as of 7pm when polls closed. Voters in line by 7 were able to cast their ballots. Keep in mind that the more densely populated areas saw some of the longest lines, and those are the areas where more Obama votes are expected to be cast. Early results lean toward Romney, but those percentages could change quickly as northern Virginia and Hampton Roads come in.
8:00pm - Economy Tops Voter Priorities in VA | Six in ten Virginia voters told exit pollers that the economy was their No.1 issue in choosing who to vote for. In Virginia, don't confuse 'jobs' and Main Street issues as disconnected from foriegn policy and national security. (See extended argument below.) Virginia is a national security state where defense, intelligence and diplomacy policy translates into thousands of jobs across both the public and private sectors. Congressional Republicans have been apopletic over the Office of Management and Budget's decision to not require WARN notices over potential layoffs as sequestration's "fiscal cliff" (and defense budget contraction) rapidly approaches; those notices could certainly have made a difference today.
5:30pm - Watch Henrico County Returns | (Great post on the 7 Most Important Counties to Watch in Election 2012 by @FixAaron at the Washington Post.) In 2004, Henrico County voted for President George W. Bush by an 8-point margin. In 2008, it swung to a 12-point margin of victory for Obama, marking one of the biggest swings in the country. Whether you think that's a factor of increased minority turnout or a signal of the shift in the middle of the electorate, we'll be watching Henrico closely tonight.
5:00pm - Election protection, Instagrammed | Hundreds of thousands of voters are sharing news about their vote online today via social media - 22 percent have shared that news today. If research by the Pew Internet Project holds steady for 2012, that peer pressure will help increase voter turnout within the sharer's personal network. That's great ... but a note of caution. Voters who photograph their ballot may be in violation of state election laws. In VA, warnings not to use a cell phone at the voting booth (and your twitchy camera app finger) are posted at some polling places. Do yourself a favor - take a picture of yourself in line, or after you've voted with your "I Voted" sticker (see whyivote.tumblr.com for great pics and stories collected today). But keep the phone in your pocket while you cast that ballot.
11:34am - Long lines throughout VA | Virginia voters are reporting lines much longer than usual in some precincts, including the heavily blue-to-purple northern Virginia area, Richmond, and Hampton Roads. Retired Army veteran Paul Brooks (@brookspe) reported out at 9:14am:
Out in the more rural 6th Congressional District, a short queue awaits voters lined up after the morning rush, but still takes a few minutes longer at the sign-in table. Why? Today is the first day that Virginia voters face a new voter ID law.
Voter ID Goes Into Effect Today | Virginia voters will have to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls today, or else cast a provisional ballot - which means their vote will only be counted if they submit the required identification to the Board of Elections within 3 days. In a race as hotly contested as Virginia's, both at the Senate and Presidential level, those provisional ballots may come into play and campaigns will scramble to reach out to voters who cast them. For campaign managers who spent their last ad buys today, that could prove problematic.
So - Did I Vote, or Not? | I'm one of Virginia's tough-to-follow voters. I've been in grad school for two years while maintaining my permanent residence and paying my taxes in Virginia. But I didn't receive the new voter registration card mailed out by the Board of Elections - and I just heard about the new voter ID law. That's not a problem for me, since I have a driver's license. I double-checked my voter registration online two days ago at the BoE website; no problems were highlighted for me. No mention was made of the voter ID law or new registration cards when I verified my registration, either. Also, I keep my original voter registration card in my wallet just to be safe.
But when I went to the polls this morning, I got asked twice if I could repeat the address printed on my Virginia driver's license. (Which made me feel like I was taking crazy pills.) After considering pulling up my last VA tax returns on my smartphone, I was allowed to head to the voting booth - but now I'm wondering if I was sent to cast a provisional ballot or a real one. I was not told that I would be casting a provisional ballot, so if I did, I wouldn't know to contact the Board of Elections and make sure my vote is counted.
So now I'm worried. After paying my taxes, following the local races, and trying to be as well-informed on the issues as possible, I voted. I think.
Four Decades of Seeing Red.
From 1968 to 2008, the conventional wisdom held that Virginia would vote for the Republican candidate for president. But shifting demographics had started to shake up the conventional wisdom already, as did the victories of the widely liked Democratic governor, Mark Warner, and the maverick Jim Webb, elected to serve alongside Warner in the Senate in 2006. For this state to shift blue is no small matter; from its troubled history with civil rights to its continued stance against gay marriage, social issues have often risen up as seemingly unchangable differences that would swing the presidential ballot. Yet the state seemed to hit a watershed with the 2008 election; social issues still matter, but this state's social makeup has changed, and become more tolerant of diversity.
The National Security State
Perhaps no state takes national security as closely to heart as Virginia; it's home to the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and Marine training bases at Quantico, Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Oceana, Fort Belvoir, and another score of military bases, homeland security outposts, intelligence offices, and defense contractors. Virginia's most liberal bastion, Arlington County, is most famous for providing a final resting place for the nation's troops at Arlington National Cemetary. Arlington's police and emergency services were among the first responders to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.
For these reasons and others, the President's record and a shifting narrative on how progressives approach national security has played an important role. (Spoiler alert: No one wanted to hug it out with Osama bin Laden.) But foreign policy likely won't be the decisive issue for military voters, who resemble the general electorate in the diversity of their priorities and who appear to break down along generational, gender and socioeconomic lines much like the rest of the country.
Yet for those anxiously waiting to see whether Congress will walk off the fiscal cliff of sequestration - and impose major cuts on defense spending - Virginia voters concerned about their pocketbooks, health, and education rightly realize that a lot of the state's financial health is tied to the national defense industries. (A recent Washington Post article estimated that half a million small business jobs would be lost or negatively impacted by cuts to the defense industry, in addition to jobs lost directly from industry downsizing.) Both Obama and Romney have offered reassurances that such drastic losses won't happen under their leadership; whoever strikes voters as more believable may keep the upper hand on Tuesday.
Down the Ballot
Virginia voters can check to see who's on the ballot (if they haven't already voted) by logging on to the State Board of Elections. At the top of the statewide races stand two former governors running for U.S. Senate: Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine. Kaine, the successor to current Senator Mark Warner's popular term as governor, has a narrow lead in statewide polls and is rated the likely winner by Nate Silver; given the margin of error, some others label the race a toss-up. Democrats have invested heavily in the race; alongside hotly contested Massachusetss, Virginia's Senate seat is considered key to maintaining Democratic leadership of the Senate. Hopes to pick up seats in the House have waned in the final days of the campaign, despite early optimism that Democrats would surge back after taking a beating from Tea Party-inspired populism in 2010. The Cook Report shows that reality clearly in Virginia; voters in the 8th, 11th and 3rd Congressional districts will likely re-elect Democrat incumbents, but the rest of the state appears resolutely in the red for Republicans. (One memorable former Congressman, the 5th district's Virgil Goode - who lost to progressive Tom Periello in 2008 - is also on the ballot for President.)
Rock Your Vote
Virginia voters will also be asked to vote on two amendments to the state constitution. The first changes the acceptable use of eminent domain; the second addresses the General Assembly's ability to more flexibly schedule its return for a veto session. Voters: read up on these measures, a few minutes in the voting booth doesn't do it justice.
**Disclosure: The author grew up in Arlington, Virginia, earned her BA from the University of Virginia, and will try - but probably fail - to avoid quoting Thomas Jefferson and/or James Madison on election night.