McAuliffe concedes, finally. Marc Elias hardest hit?

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Bear in mind that Dave Wasserman at The Cook Report accurately called Virginia for Glenn Youngkin ninety minutes after the polls closed last night. By midnight, most news outlets had followed suit. Terry McAuliffe, however, decided not to acknowledge the loss last night at all despite the obvious direction in which the contest was heading:

Democrat Terry McAuliffe declined to formally concede defeat in the Virginia gubernatorial race Tuesday night, despite trailing Republican Glenn Youngkin by more than 100,000 votes with most precincts reported.

“We still got a lot of votes to count, we got about 18 percent of the vote out, so we’re gonna continue to count the votes because every single Virginian deserves to have their vote counted,” McAuliffe told cheering supporters in the suburban outpost of Tysons Corner, at around 10:20 p.m. …

CNN correspondent Jeff Zeleny tweeted as the votes were being counted that McAuliffe, who had opted to watch the returns at home rather than at his Election Night party, told his backers: “When the results of this election come in — win or lose — we can rest assured that we did everything we can to create the future that we want.”

The decision to watch the results at home were an early clue that McAuliffe expected to lose. Even McAuliffe supporters read that writing on the wall at the time:

So why not concede after the calls had started coming in? The race wasn’t that close — by the time McAuliffe offered the “let’s count all the votes” message, he was trailing by a couple of points with almost all of his strongholds reporting. If he was trying to hold his supporters at their rally, that attempt failed miserably:

The crowd only cheered for results when deep-blue Fairfax County announced its first results. The loudest cheers for the night came when the candidate introduced his family.

Despite McAuliffe trying to strike an optimistic note, when he finished speaking, his supporters, perhaps sensing the writing on the wall, were quick to make for the exits, with the venue almost deserted within 20 minutes of the candidate’s remarks.

The “let’s count all the votes” message sounded suspiciously like the start of an election challenge. McAuliffe had already hired Marc Elias, a Democratic attorney known for election challenges (and who apparently has caught John Durham’s attention in the Russiagate investigation). That hiring tipped off McAuliffe’s lawfare strategy in any close race so badly that his campaign tried to kill the story when a Fox reporter started asking about it … and inadvertently copied the reporter on the effort. D’oh!

It’s not easy to underestimate this planning. Jonathan Turley called Elias’ hiring “astonishing” for its audacity and hypocrisy, given McAuliffe’s hyperbole over “conspiracy theories” about the 2020 elections and attempting to tie them to Youngkin. McAuliffe went further and had Stacey Abrams campaign for him in Virginia, the same Stacey Abrams who has flogged conspiracy theories about her 50,000-vote loss to Brian Kemp in Georgia’s 2018 election. Had the gap gotten down to a point or so, or under 30,000 votes, we could have expected an all-hands-on-deck attempt to wrest the election back through the courts.

But even McAuliffe finally recognized that a 70,000-vote gap can’t get covered by a conspiracy theory. And so

Democrat Terry McAuliffe formally conceded from the Virginia gubernatorial race Wednesday morning, after Republican Glenn Youngkin was predicted the winner Tuesday night.

“While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in,” McAuliffe said, citing the importance of protecting Virginia’s schools and voting rights, and fighting for affordable health care coverage and raising the minimum wage.

“While there will be setbacks along the way, I am confident that the long-term path of Virginia is toward inclusion, openness and tolerance for all.”

McAuliffe congratulated Youngkin in his statement saying, “Congratulations to Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin on his victory. I hope Virginians will join me in wishing the best to him and his family.”

That’s certainly gracious enough. It would have been more gracious last night, but at least it’s a concession. That’s better than Abrams has ever managed.

What about Elias? As one follower on Twitter quipped, no need to worry about him — he’s probably on the train to Trenton as we speak. His services might not be necessary there, though, as Phil Murphy has regained a slight lead over Jack Ciattarelli in the New Jersey gubernatorial vote count. Most of the counties left to fully report should be solid Democrat turf, although the definition of that term obviously shifted last night — a lot.