RICHMOND - Virginia voters overwhelmingly elected Republican Bob McDonnell as their next governor on Tuesday, part of a clean sweep for the GOP that halts nearly a decade of Democratic gains in the state.
McDonnell -- a former state attorney general and a staunch conservative -- overcame rural Democratic legislator Creigh Deeds by about 20 points, an even wider margin than projected by polls. The victory marks the first time a Republican has won election as the state's top executive in a dozen years.
In a light turnout for the off-year election, McDonnell won with more than 1 million votes, according to unofficial totals. He benefited especially from a strong showing in the heavily Democratic Washington suburbs. He about matched Deeds' vote totals in populous Fairfax County, and handily took the outer suburbs of Loudoun and Prince William counties -- both of which had voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
In his victory speech, McDonnell reiterated a litany of campaign promises: low taxes, a stronger private sector and frugal state spending. He pledged to "leave Virginia better than we found it."
"Tonight, you've given me the title of governor of Virginia, but I pledge to you over the next four years action and results," McDonnell said.
In his concession speech in Richmond, Deeds thanked his supporters and declared, "This chapter is closed, but the next chapter has yet to be written."
The same lopsided margins of victory stretched across the entire statewide ticket: Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling won re-election over challenger Jody Wagner, Gov. Tim Kaine's former finance secretary, and state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli bested Del. Steve Shannon in the attorney general's race.
The results were a stark reversal from recent years, in which Republicans in Virginia lost election after election. The streak of losses began with Mark Warner's election as governor in 2001 and culminated last year in the state casting its electoral votes for its first Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
Virginia Republican leaders cast the broad victory as a rebuke of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, and the beginning of a national resurgence for a once demoralized and fractured party. The White House, sensing the outcome, has been positioning itself to blame the loss on a troubled Deeds campaign. Republicans were quick to push the opposite message.
"Tonight's great victory is a clear sign that we the people are fed up with the Obama-Kaine-Pelosi agenda," said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the No. 2 Republican in the House.