And so one of the biggest surprise story lines of the midterm election comes to an end — at least for now. Before Tuesday, analysts thought Republicans had an outside shot at winning a narrow Senate majority, and Ed Gillespie had an outside shot of becoming starting QB for the Washington Redskins. Instead, incumbent Mark Warner came within less than 20,000 votes of losing what everyone thought would be a sure re-election bid, barely eking out the win against the former RNC chair. Gillespie decided to forgo a recount, even though the option was still open to him, and conceded the race this afternoon instead:
Republican Ed Gillespie conceded the Virginia Senate race Friday to incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.
Gillespie said at a Friday afternoon news conference that he had called Warner “congratulating him on his re-election” in a race that turned out to be one of the midterm election’s biggest surprises.
Polls had shown Warner, a popular former governor who’d been endorsed by his Republican predecessor, ex-Sen. John Warner, with a hefty lead. But Gillespie led Warner for much of the night as returns trickled in Tuesday — and ultimately ended up trailing by less than one percentage point.
Gillespie had declined to concede until after a recanvass took place, a review of the ballot-count reports and recalculation of the Election Night results. With the race within a percentage point, Gillespie could have called for a full recount, which would have taken several more days, but knew that recounts don’t generate results that reverse 17,000-vote differences. Rather than put the state through a divisive process for the infinitesimal chance it might change the outcome, Gillespie decided enough was enough:
“I’ve called Mark Warner to congratulate him on his reelection,” Gillespie said in a Friday press conference in Northern Virginia. “It would be wrong to put my fellow Virginiains through a recount when in my head and in my heart, I know a change in the outcome is not possible.” …
Gillespie stayed upbeat throughout the speech, thanking his staff and advisors one by one. But at the end, his voice cracked as he thanked his family.
“It would have been nice to be called senator but the best thing I’ve ever been called is dad,” he said before hugging his family and some supporters on his way out the door.
The classy exit after a narrow but confirmed loss will serve Gillespie well in the future. A week or two ago, few would have expected Gillespie to have a future in Virginia politics. The big question was whether he could avoid a double-digit humiliation. Mark Warner was expected to crush Gillespie, but instead the Republican nearly shocked Virginia as much as Larry Hogan shocked next-door Maryland in the gubernatorial race. Gillespie’s surprising finish and his clearly positive standing in Virginia will make him the obvious choice to challenge for the gubernatorial race in 2017. Terry McAuliffe is term-limited anyway, but after four years of his leadership Virginians will certainly be ready for a change of pace.
Consider for a moment what this means for Mark Warner, too. As a former governor and Senator, Warner could have made an argument for being the alternative to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. Had he won an easy re-election in a Democrat-friendly state like Virginia, Warner might have given Democrats a credible and moderate alternative to the woman whose public campaigning keeps backfiring on her own ambitions. An outright loss would have ended any such ambitions, obviously, but this near-miss doesn’t do much for Warner’s credibility as a candidate outside of his home state … or inside of it, either.