RICHMOND – Polling places across Virginia saw steady — but far from overwhelming — voter turnout Tuesday morning, typical for an off-year election day but nevertheless a jarring come-down from last year's surge in voting.
Republicans were showing up alongside Democrats at Northern Virginia precincts, which augers poorly for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds. Deeds needs a big advantage in the heavily Democratic Washington suburbs to pull off what would be an upset victory over Republican nominee Bob McDonnell.
“I was surprised this year that the Republicans fielded a candidate who appealed to Northern Virginia and locked up the rural parts of the state,” said Paul Griffin, who voted a straight GOP ticket, at Island Creek Elementary School in Alexandria. “The Democrats didn't lock up Northern Virginia well. McDonnell had a more positive message.”
Also at the school was Kathleen James, an independent, who cast her ballot for all Democratic candidates.
“Right now, I'm more philosophically aligned with the Democrats,” she said. “With the election of Obama last year, I'd like to see the Democratic movement continue.”
Obama swept to victory in Virginia last year by a swell of voters — many of them young or African American — becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to take the state in four decades.
Recent college graduate Madeline Manion, after voting for Deeds outside of George Washington Carver Elementary in Richmond, said she closely followed the 2008 presidential race. This year's election failed to spark the same interest for her.
“I don't know too much about it, honestly,” Manion said.
At Lane Elementary School near Kingstown, a continuous stream of voters meandered into the polling place, though the wait was rarely longer than a few minutes.
Charles Chambers voted for Deeds, though he acknowledged the candidate could have done a better job getting the word out about his years of work in state government.
“He's got the combination of knowledge and experience and I think he has a good sense of the whole state,” Chambers said.
For Carol Martin, a McDonnell voter, there was never any doubt.
“I'm against anybody that's for abortion,” she said. “He's for the people. He's for keeping taxes, improving the transportation. He's a family man and he stands for honesty and integrity.”
At Alexandria's Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Democrats appeared especially motivated by the attorney general's race, in which Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, a socially conservative state legislator, is favored to win.
“I think in the AG's race, if a Republican's elected, we're going to be looking at the 1950s,” said Chuck Schwidde.
At Greenspring retirement community in Springfield, turnout was low.
County poll watcher Sue Hotto said that about 39-40 percent of the precinct's voters had turned out. The gated neighborhoods usually leads the county for voter turnout, Hotto said. “Usually, after breakfast, there's so many people in the hall you can't move,” Hotto said. Keith Fimian, who will challenge U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., next year, was on hand. He had been to several Fairfax polling stations and said turnout had been low. “It's not out of character,” he said. “But you wish more people would turn out.” Sim Taylor, a retiree at Greenspring, said turnout had picked up around 10 a.m. and had been “steady” ever since. John Balog, a retired Department of Agriculture worker, was manning a station for the Democrats. It was his first time as an election volunteer. Balog acknowledged that turnout was low. “Maybe it's how they feel about the candidates,” he said.
Examiner Staff Writers Michael Neibauer, Freeman Klopott, David Sherfinski and Bill Myers contributed to this report.