Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia narrowly led Republican challenger Keith Fimian on Tuesday in a campaign dominated by voters' disdain for incumbent Democrats and at a time when three other Virginia Democrats were unseated in the GOP sweep.
With about 99 percent of precincts reporting in the 11th Congressional District race, unofficial results had Connolly up by about 500 votes out of more than 220,000 cast in the race, but the incumbent declared victory anyway.
"It's not a landslide, but it's a win," Connolly told supporters. "Lots of elections are won by razor-thin margins and they count. I think you have to put it into context of this climate. I think it's a pretty impressive win based on this climate."
Fimian did not concede defeat Tuesday. "Tomorrow we begin again," he said according to the Associated Press..
If Connolly's margin holds, Fimian could call for a recount after state election officials certify the results later this month. If Connolly prevails, he would emerge as a small bright spot for Democrats on a night where they lost control of the House of Representatives and Republicans made gains in the U.S. Senate. In Virginia, three other Democratic congressmen lost their seats Tuesday.
Political prognosticators had originally ranked the Connolly-Fimian race as relatively safe Democratic ground, a second-tier contest compared to other hyper-competitive House contests elsewhere in Virginia. But things tightened in the weeks preceding the election as the national mood further soured and outside groups on both sides flooded the district with cash.
In addition to relentless attack ads on television and radio, Connolly and Fimian assailed each other as the race narrowed.
Fimian railed against Connolly for siding with congressional Democrats on high-profile issues like the economic stimulus package, health care reform, and a cap-and-trade energy bill. Connolly criticized Fimian for his lack of experience in the community and used Fimian's opposition to gun-control and abortion to paint the Republican as extreme.
Fimian also suffered a late setback when he said during a television interview that the 2007 Virginia Tech shoooting could have been avoided if students had been "packing heat." He later apologized, saying that he meant that things would have turned out differently if there were security guards present.
The campaign went negative early, an indication that focusing on accomplishments over the last two years was a tough sell for Connolly, noted George Mason University's Mark Rozell. The fact that the race was so close was an indicator of just how powerful the national mood was this election cycle, he said.
In other Northern Virginia House races, longtime incumbents Frank Wolf, a Republican, and Jim Moran, a Democrat, scored easy victories over their opponents in Virginia's 10th and 8th Congressional Districts.