A special election held Tuesday for a Norfolk-based state senate seat should have been an easy win for Democrats. President Obama won the district by 15 points (57 percent to 42 percent) in 2012, and Democratic governor-elect Terry McAuliffe won the district by roughly 12 points (52 percent to 40 percent) just two months ago.
But as of Wednesday evening, we still don't know the result of the election, which will determine control of the Virginia state senate. As election officials continue to double-check the accuracy of vote tallies, Democrat Lynwood Lewis holds just a 10-vote lead over Republican Wayne Coleman.
"I'm amazed that Lewis didn't win by more in that district," says Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "Lewis is a member of House of Delegates. Coleman's barely known."
The close race may be another sign that there's a "substantial motivation gap" between Democratic and Republican voters, Sabato tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. And that motivation gap, should it continue, could be a big problem for Democratic U.S. senator Mark Warner, who's up for reelection in 2014.
"I think he's worried," Sabato says of Warner. Sabato pointed out that Warner's likely Republican challenger, Ed Gillespie, will be able to raise the resources to pose a "serious challenge" to Warner.
"I’m not sold on the 'Mark Warner is vulnerable' storyline just yet," Sean Trende, an elections expert at Real Clear Politics, tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an email. "He does have to worry about dropoff issues, but ultimately taking on an incumbent is different than winning an open seat, and Warner is generally viewed favorably. If things continue to go south for Democrats in general, however, it could reach the point where the drop in Democratic participation could hurt him."
According to Trende, the decline in Democratic support in the Virginia special election is "emblematic of what we’ve seen in special elections so far – drop-offs of four-to-six percent from Obama’s 2012 showing. There’s a little more of a drop-off here than I would have anticipated, but not a lot."
The Washington Post's Ben Pershing reports that the State Board of Elections will certify the election results on Friday. At that point, the losing candidate may request a recount.