LGBT Virginians can breathe a little easier following Tuesday's statewide and local elections, but the community still faces daunting challenges in Richmond. Democrat Terry McAuliffe may have narrowly defeated anti-gay Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli in the race for governor, but that victory failed to provide enough momentum to help all the down-ticket Democratic LGBT allies.
In the governor's race, McAuliffe defeated Cuccinelli 48 percent to 45 percent, with 7 percent of voters selecting Libertarian Party nominee Robert Sarvis. According to exit polling from Edison Media Research, McAuliffe won female voters by 9 points and lost male voters by 3 points. He won 90 percent of African-American voters, but only 36 percent of white votes.
Regionally, McAuliffe had sizeable wins in the D.C. suburbs and the Tidewater region, and a narrow win in the Richmond area, while Cuccinelli won big in the western part of the state and eked out a narrow victory among people in the Northern Virginia exurbs.
E.W. Jackson, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, was defeated by state Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Mathews, Northampton and Accomack counties) by a full 10 points, 55 to 45 percent.
The defeats of Cuccinelli, who has made opposition to LGBT rights a cornerstone of his political career beginning with his tenure in the Virginia Senate and continuing as the state's attorney general, and Jackson, known for his fiery anti-gay rhetoric, were certainly celebrated by the LGBT community and its allies. But McAuliffe's win fell short of carrying all the down-ticket Democrats to victory.
In the state attorney general's race, as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg, Rockingham, Rappahannock, Page, Warren, Shenandoah counties), a longtime opponent of LGBT rights, led state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun, Fairfax counties) by 465 votes out of almost 2.2 million votes cast, according to the State Board of Elections.
Throughout Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, Herring and Obenshain exchanged leads as more ballots from remaining precincts filtered in. There were also some recording errors from the State Board of Elections, which erroneously shortchanged Herring by 610 votes at one precinct in Loudoun County, and shortchanged Obenshain by 200 votes at one precinct in Buchanan County. The results of the attorney general's race are within three-hundredths of a percentage point and are likely to be subject to an automatic recount.
Herring, a longtime legislative ally to the LGBT community, campaigned with an ''Equality Agenda'' in which he promised to prohibit discrimination in state and local employment, pursue anti-bullying policies and protections for LGBT teens, find legal remedies that would allow LGBT people to access their partner's health and life insurance benefits, and promote second-parent adoption for gay and lesbian couples. As a supporter of marriage equality, a Herring win would be crucial to determining whether Virginia would appeal any court decision that might find Virginia's ban on recognizing same-sex relationships unconstitutional, as two separate cases challenge that ban work their way through the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia.
Herring's campaign released a statement Wednesday expressing confidence in an eventual victory.
''Since polls closed, we've seen several lead changes and based on our projections, we are going to win,'' Herring's campaign manager Kevin O'Holleran said in the statement. ''When all of the votes cast are counted, including absentee votes and thousands of provisional ballots, we're confident Mark Herring will be the next Attorney General of Virginia. We have a responsibility to make sure every voter is protected and every vote counts.''
In Manassas Park and Prince William County, Democrat Atif Qarni lost to Republican incumbent Del. Bob Marshall – arguably the House's most anti-LGBT delegate – by 498 votes. That win, notably, was Marshall's smallest margin of victory since first elected in 1991.
In a district stretching from Woodbridge to Stafford, however, Democrat Michael Futrell, who supports marriage equality and employment nondiscrimination, ousted anti-gay Republican Del. Mark Dudenhefer. In the Newport News area, Democrat Monty Mason defeated incumbent Republican Michael Watson, who boasts a record of anti-gay votes, including votes to reject the Virginia's first out gay judge, Tracy Thorne-Begland, to the Richmond District Court.
Twenty-four of 29 candidates endorsed by EVPAC, the political action arm of Equality Virginia, won Tuesday, though 23 were incumbents. Mason was the only challenger to win. Republican incumbents had an equally good showing.
In McLean and Great Falls, Democrat Kathleen Murphy fell 431 votes short of anti-gay Republican Del. Barbara Comstock. In Loudoun and Prince William counties, anti-gay Del. David Ramadan squeaked to victory with 195 votes over Democrat John Bell.
In southern Prince William County and eastern Fauquier County, Jeremy McPike (D) fell 234 votes short of beating anti-gay Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R).
In two nearby Prince William- and Manassas-based districts, incumbent Republicans Rich Anderson and Jackson Miller, both opponents of LGBT rights, pushed back strong challenges from Democrats Reed Heddleston and Richard Cabellos, respectively.
Del. Tim Hugo (R), one of only five House members to receive a zero rating from Equality Virginia Advocates for two straight years, won by more than 20 points in southwestern Fairfax County. And in Newport News, Democrat Rob Farinholt lost to incumbent Republican Del. David Yancey, who has a mostly anti-gay voting record, by 537 votes.
In districts with more moderate Republican incumbents Democrats also fell short, with Liz Miller (D) losing to Del. Tag Greason (R) by 634 votes in an Ashburn-based district; Del. Jim LeMunyon (R) turning back a stronger-than-expected challenge from Hung Nguyen (D) in the Chantilly area; and Republican David Albo winning by more than 20 points in his Springfield-based district.
The closest race of the night saw Del. Tom Rust (Fairfax, Loudon counties), one of the few pro-gay Republicans in the Legislature and a co-sponsor of a bill to prohibit discrimination in public employment, squeak by Democrat Jennifer Boysko in his by just 56 votes.
Equality Virginia released a statement Wednesday hailing the elections of McAuliffe and Northam as a sign of progress toward eventually achieving equality for LGBT individuals in the commonwealth. The organization also said it was ''hopeful'' that Herring would prevail in the attorney general's race.
''This is a real turning point for Virginia,'' James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said. ''The commonwealth has never before had somebody in the governor's seat who so openly supports equality for all Virginians. Equality Virginia is excited to work with these leaders toward a state that is welcoming for all families. Unfortunately, the newly-elected House of Delegates will continue to be a major road block to achieving equality in Virginia.''
In all, Democrats lost an open seat and picked up two Tuesday, bringing that party's total to 33 seats in the 100-member lower chamber, leaving Republicans with 67