For most, it was Obenshain, who had the lead in the counting all night long. If you stayed up into the wee hours, it was Herring, who led by 616 votes in the counting as of 3 a.m., and only lost the lead in the late morning on Wednesday as the final four precincts trickled in.
Before it got to that point, Herring did what you’d expect a candidate in this kind of situation to do. He declared victory.
“Election Day is over, and I am honored to have a majority of Virginians cast their ballots for me for attorney general. Just before 2 a.m., we took a several hundred vote lead to become the next attorney general of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Herring said in a statement.
“I am grateful to have earned the support of so many Virginans all across the Commonwealth and look forward to continuing to work on their behalf,” Herring said.
Still no statements yet from the Obenshain camp, though we can expect one to be forthcoming as the focus shifts from counting the ballots on Election Night to the canvasses going on statewide today and then the inevitable count-every-ballot recount to come.
The shades of 2005 are obvious already. That attorney general race pitted Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds, and the first count of votes ended with McDonnell up by 349 votes in the wee hours of Election Night.
McDonnell, like Herring, declared victory and began his transition. Deeds, outflanked by the declaration, vowed that he would fight until every vote was counted, but in so speaking already sounded like the guy who knew he was the runner-up.
In the end, Deeds couldn’t narrow the margin from the 349-vote gap that separated the two when the votes were first certified by the State Board of Elections enough to win. The tally did end up a tad bit closer, with McDonnell winning by 323 votes.
The back-and-forth on numbers since about midnight last night foretells an interesting next few weeks in the 2013 race. This one could very well come down to vote totals put in the wrong column, somebody forgetting to carry the one, that sort of thing.
What’s at stake is obvious and also not obvious. Obvious is who gets to be the next attorney general of Virginia. Not so obvious is what it means to the 2017 election cycle. Obenshain would be the only Republican in a statewide office, and as such would be the presumed frontrunner for the 2017 GOP governor nomination.
A Herring win puts him in the mix for 2017 on the Democratic side, and also throws the door wide open on the Republican side for a potential Ken Cuccinelli or Bill Bolling comeback, among other things.
Think about what happened in 2005. McDonnell gets the narrow win, ends up pushing Bolling out of the way in 2009 for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and handily defeats Deeds in the governor race that year in the rematch.
The bottom line: Election Day has come and gone, and it won’t be over yet for at least a few weeks now.