It’s incredible to imagine, but there are actually people out there who think their vote doesn’t matter, that it won’t make a difference, etc. And yet if you look back at Virginia political history since 2001, there are numerous super-close elections that made a major – or even huge – difference. See below for ten of those…and note that there are MANY more I could have included in this list, so feel free to mention them in the comments section!
2001 LG: Then-Richmond-Mayor Tim Kaine, running on a ticket with Mark Warner (for governor), defeated Republican Jay Katzen by just two points (50%-48%) in the race for Lt. Governor of Virginia. Also note that Kaine, who arguably would go on to become one of the most important politicians in Virginia history – elected governor in November 2005, then DNC chair in 2009, then US Senator in November 2012 – got into this race after State Senator Emily Couric dropped out due to pancreatic cancer and endorsed Kaine…who then went on to win the Dmeocratic nomination 39.7%-31.4%-28.9% over Del. Alan Diamonstein of Newport News and Jerrauld Jones (father of Jay Jones) of Norfolk. Just imagine if Couric if Kaine hadn’t been elected Lt. Governor in 2001; maybe he still would have gone on to run for governor in 2005, and maybe he still would have won the Democratic nomination and the general election in November 2005, but…more likely he wouldn’t have, which would have drastically changed the way Virginia politics unfolded since then.
2001 House of Delegates: Winsome Sears “upset 20-year Democratic incumbent Billy Robinson [53%-47%] while running for the 90th district seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates, becoming the first Jamaican female Republican, first female veteran, and first naturalized citizen delegate, to serve in the body.” If Sears hadn’t won that race, would she be Lt. Governor today, as well as a likely future candidate for governor? Who knows, but…doubtful.
2005 AG: Another super-important election, this time with Republican Bob McDonnell defeating Democrat Creigh Deeds by just 323 votes (!) out of 1.9 MILLION cast for Attorney General. If McDonnell had lost that race, would he have become governor in 2009? If Deeds had won that race, how would his political career have played out? Who knows, but the bottom line is that this election – decided by just 0.01 percentage points – had major consequences going forward.
2005 LG: Despite Tim Kaine winning the race for governor by 5 points over Jerry Kilgore, the other two Democrats on the ticket that year both lost – albeit very narrowly. We’ve already discussed Creigh Deeds’ 323-vote loss to Bob McDonnell for AG, but it’s also worth mentioning Democrat Leslie Byrne’s 1-percentage-point loss to Republican Bill Bolling for Lt. Governor. If Byrne had won this race and Bolling had lost, what would THAT have meant going forward? For starters, it probably would have ended Bolling’s political career, instead of marking the beginning of his two terms as Lt. Governor. And all determined by just 22k votes out of over 1.9 million cast.
2006 US Senate: If you had any nails left after this year’s U.S. Senate election between Republican incumbent George Allen and Democratic challenger Jim Webb, you clearly must have had nerves of steel, because damn was this one a nail-biter! In the end, Webb won this one by just over 9,300 votes out of 2.3 MILLION cast. As a consequence, Webb went to the US Senate and George Allen did NOT – as many expected at the time – run for President in 2008. So yeah, that one was hugely significant, both in terms of future Virginia politics and also in terms of policy differences between Webb and Allen in the U.S. Senate.
2007 State Senate: Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s defeat of Democrat Janet Oleszek for State Senate (in the 37th district at the time), by a miniscule margin (18,602-18,510) kept Cuccinelli’s political career going. If Cuccinelli had lost that election, would he have been the Republican nominee for Attorney General in 2009, then arguably the worst (by far) Attorney General in Virginia history? Would he have been the Republican nominee for GOVERNOR in 2013, at the head of what was known as the “extreme team” (Ken Cuccinelli/EW Jackson/Mark Obenshain) – which went on to narrowly lose to the Democratic ticket of Terry McAuliffe/Ralph Northam/Mark Herring? If there had been a less-extreme 2013 Republican ticket, might it have defeated McAuliffe/Northam/Herring? If so, imagine the massive differences that would have made for Virginia politics, policy, etc? So yeah, even a relatively obscure election for the General Assembly can have MASSIVE consequences, and in this case, decided by an extremely thin 50.0%-49.8% margin.
2008 VA05: Democrat Tom Perriello defeated Republican incumbent Virgil Goode for U.S. House of Representatives in VA05, by an extremely narrow margin of 158,810-158,083 (50.1%-49.9%). Other than essentially ending Goode’s political career, this election didn’t really change VA05’s political trajectory in the long term (since Perriello’s one term in the U.S. House, the district has gone further and further right, currently represented by fascist/bigot/insurrectionist Bob Good), but it was significant for launching Perriello’s political career, including his run for governor in the 2017 Democratic primary versus Ralph Northam.
2010 House of Delegates: In a special election in March for House of Delegates, Democrat Eileen Filler-Corn defeated Republican Kerry Bolognese (in then-HD41) by a tiny margin of 5,758-5,721 (50.1%-48.8%). If Filler-Corn had lost this race, would she eventually have become the first female and first Jewish Speaker of the House of Delegates in Virginia history? Would she have led the way in passing HUNDREDS of pieces of progressive legislation? And would she be a possible candidate for governor in 2025? Who knows…but that March 2010 special election made a huge difference.
2010 VA11: Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) almost lost his reelection to Republican Keith Fimian, in the end eking out a 49.2%-48.8% (not even 1,000 votes out of 227k) win, with two independents and a Libertarian candidate possibly making the difference. Now, it’s certainly possible that Connolly would have come back in 2012, and that Fimian would have been a one-termer, but still, this is a great example of how every vote really matters.
2013 AG: You can’t get much closer than the 2013 race for Attorney General between Democrat Mark Herring and (hard-right) Republican Mark Obenshain, which was decided by just 165 votes (1,103,777-1,103,612; 49.9%-49.9%) out of 2.2 MILLION cast. And what a massive difference this election made, both in terms of the policies pursued in by the Attorney General’s office, as well as the resistance to Donald Trump’s horrendous policies, etc. You really can’t overstate how incredibly impactful this election was, and all decided by such a miniscule margin! (Note: you could also throw in the 2013 governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli, which was decided by just 2.5 points)
2014 U.S. Senate: Mark Warner, who had been essentially unbeatable for so long in Virginia politics, almost lost his U.S. Senate seat to Republican Ed Gillespie, scratching out a narrow, 49.1%-48.3% win, with Libertarian Robert Sarvis pulling in 2.4%. Just imagine what a difference to Virginia politics that a Gillespie win in 2014 would have made; it’s hard to even wrap your brain around it, really, but it’s huge.
2018/2020 VA07: Democrat Abigail Spanberger defeated incumbent Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA07) by a narrow 50.3%-48.4% (just under 7,000 votes out of 340k+ cast). That thankfully ended far-right-extremist Brat’s political career and launched Spanberger’s, which continued in 2020 with ANOTHER narrow win, this time 50.8%-49.0% over far-right Republican Del. Nick Freitas. If Spanberger ends up becoming governor of Virginia in 2025, or US Senator at some point, remember those two close races…
2018/2020/2022 VA02: Also worth mentioning are Elaine Luria’s three close elections – two narrow wins (in 2018 and 2020, both times over Republican Scott Taylor with 51% of the vote) and a narrow loss (in 2022 to Republican Jen Kiggans by 3.4 points). Luria, of course, played a major role on the U.S. House’s January 6th select committee, and could still be a significant player in Virginia politics going forward. As for Kiggans, her defeat of Luria marks one of the biggest downgrades in a Virginia Congressional district’s U.S. House representation in recent memory.
2021 Republican AG nomination: There were several close elections this year. First, the Republicans’ Attorney General nomination was decided by an extremely narrow margin, with Jason Miyares barely defeating Chuck Smith 10,902 (33.67%)-10,245 (33.52%). If Smith – who believe it or not is even more extreme than Miyares – had been the nominee, would he have lost in November against incumbent AG Mark Herring? We’ll never know, but it’s interesting to think about. Also, could Smith have helped brand the 2021 Republican ticket as “Extreme Team Part 2,” possibly helping Terry McAuliffe enought to eke out a narrow win over Glenn Youngkin (who won by just 2 points)? Probably not, but…against, we’ll never know.
2021 LG, AG races: In the Lt. Governor’s race, Republican Winsome Sears defeated Democrat Hala Ayala by just 1.5 points (50.7%-49.2%), while in the Attorney General’s race, Republican Jason Miyares defeated incumbent Mark Herring by just 0.8 points (50.36%-49.55%). Just imagine the difference in Virginia politics if Ayala were LG right now and Herring were AG? And all because of a super-close election that could have turned out differently if any number of thing had – or hadn’t – happened.
Anyway, those are just a few of the close races in Virginia since 2000 that made a major difference in politics and policy. Which other ones would you add to this list?
P.S. Oh yeah, of course let’s not forget January 2018, when there had to be a random drawing to break a TIE vote (in the race between Democrat Shelly Simonds and Republican David Yance) for control of the VA House of Delegates. If that election didn’t prove that every vote matters, no election ever will!