RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine defeated a hardcore supporter of President Donald Trump Tuesday to win re-election to the U.S. Senate, as Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Wexton defeated GOP incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock to flip a U.S. House seat.
Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, defeated Republican Corey Stewart, reaffirming Virginia’s status as a blue-leaning state.
NOTE: Tim Kaine’s speaks on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, following his win on election night. App users can watch his full speech at this link.
“We have to keep Virginia moving and put our country back on the right track. That starts now,” Kaine said on Twitter after the Associated Press called the race in his favor.
Wexton, speaking to hundreds of cheering supporters, said she was surprised her victory was called so early.
“I’ve been saying that change is coming. … That change came tonight,” she said.
Wexton was widely expected to defeat Comstock in a Northern Virginia district that leaned heavily Democratic in 2016 and 2017.
Two closely watched GOP-held congressional districts — one in the Richmond area and the other in Hampton Roads — were still too close to call.
Republican Denver Riggleman won an open seat in central Virginia against Democrat Leslie Cockburn in a district that Trump won by 11 percentage points.
It was one of four seats Democrats have focused on flipping this year, including the Comstock seat.
Riggleman, in a phone interview, acknowledged he was surprised by his margin of victory. He said he thinks he was able to connect with voters in the district by speaking plainly and directly with them.
“I’m a conservative … but I don’t think we have to be so polarized to get things done,” he said.
Trump loomed large in many Virginia races.
Richard Milner, 66, who inspects private boats for insurance companies along Virginia’s coast, voted for U.S. Rep Scott Taylor and Stewart, and credits Trump and Republicans in Congress for the booming economy. He said business for him has been “rocking and rolling.”
“If we had a Democrat in there, they would be totally against whatever (Trump) wanted to do, which is more of a roadblock for the government getting things done,” said Milner, who lives in Norfolk.
Ross Noe, 55, a financial underwriter from Goochland, said he voted for Kaine and Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who’s challenging an incumbent congressman, as a way of sending a message of discontent with how Trump is governing.
“I am just very afraid of some of the decisions being made in Washington,” said Noe.
Kaine’s campaign focused on the need for an inclusive government that worked “for all.”
Stewart accused Kaine of opposing the president’s agenda for political gain, even at Virginia’s expense.
The pair often had heated clashes during their three candidate debates, but the rest of the race was largely one-sided. Kaine had more than $20 million to spend on the race and blanketed the state with TV ads. Stewart had only a fraction to spend and relied mostly on social media to try and amplify his voice.
Best known for his outspoken support of Confederate imagery, Stewart is a one-time Trump state campaign chairman. But he received almost no help from the White House — Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Virginia multiple times but never campaigned with Stewart.
Virginia served as an early indicator for anti-Trump energy during its 2017 race for governor. Democrats trounced Republicans in all three statewide races and won more seats in the state House than virtually anyone expected.
While Democrats have won every statewide election since 2009, Republicans were able to keep races close prior to the 2016 presidential election. Republican Ed Gillespie lost a Senate election in 2014 by less than 20,000 votes by running as a Republican moderate. Last year, Gillespie embraced much of Trump’s rhetoric on social issues and lost a race for governor by more than 230,000.
Even before Trump, the state has been shifting leftward. The change is largely a factor of demographics, as Virginia’s more liberal and diverse cities and suburbs make up an increasingly large share of the state’s population. Vote-rich Northern Virginia has been dubbed the “blue wall” that’s helped ensure Democratic victories statewide.
Despite their success in winning statewide elections, Democrats have had less luck in U.S. House races. Republicans hold 7 of the state’s 11 seats. They previously held 8, but a federal court ordered part of the congressional map redrawn in 2015 after judges found that state lawmakers packed black voters into one district in order to make adjacent districts safer for Republican incumbents.
Barakat reported from Chantilly, Virginia. Associated Press writers Ben Finley contributed from Norfolk, Virginia and Denise Lavoie contributed from Goochland, Virginia.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics