A flushed Glen Sturtevant strode hand-in-hand with his wife, Lori, through the front door of the Blue Goat to the roaring party that Powhatan saved.
Moments earlier, the Associated Press called the contentious 10th district state Senate race for Sturtevant, a 33-year-old Republican, quashing the air of uneasiness that had crept into his campaign watch party during the two-hour-plus tally.
Necks craned and phone-wielding supporters stretched to capture the couple's arrival (they took in the count at home). As soon as Sturtevant appeared, he was met with a fierce handshake and enveloped in a hug from his elated predecessor, the retiring Republican John Watkins.
Sturtevant, a lawyer and first-term school board representative, edged Democrat Daniel Gecker in Tuesday's election, drawing to a close one of the most vicious – and expensive – state legislative races in recent memory. The run-up to Election Day was characterized by endless television and radio attack ads from both candidates, fueled largely by donations from out-of-state advocacy groups seeking to highlight each candidate's stance on gun control.
The cash influx of "outside money" from interest groups changed the complexion of the campaign, Watkins said last night.
“They’re ruining local elections and they’re Washington-izing local and state governments,” he said. “These two guys would have run a much more issue-based campaign had that money not showed up – and that’s on both sides.”
At stake was control of the state Senate heading into the General Assembly’s upcoming budget session, the first and last of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s term. In recent days, McAuliffe had campaigned vigorously on behalf of Gecker and Democratic hopefuls across the state, to no avail. Election Day ended with 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats in the state Senate, the same count as before the election. Sturtevant’s victory in the 10th District effectively guaranteed Republicans will control both chambers of the General Assembly.
“If I earned your vote tonight, thank you. If I didn’t earn your vote tonight, I’m going to work over the next four years to earn your trust and earn your vote because, at the end of the day, this is about bringing people together,” Sturtevant said during his victory speech.
The polls closed at 7 p.m. Early returns, mainly from Chesterfield, showed Sturtevant with a double-digit lead. That lead slowly evaporated as city votes were counted. Gecker, a real-estate developer and former Chesterfield County supervisor, built an eight-point advantage.
Nerves began to set in around the party, as campaign volunteers dropped their heads to cell phone screens to analyze the latest developments and social media buzz. But there was hope, they determined: With 75 percent of precincts reporting, the yet-to-be-counted votes were left in Powhatan – GOP country. Better yet, hotly contested local elections for the board of supervisors and school board were expected to drive turnout – a gift from the off-year election gods.
Powhatan reported shortly after 9 p.m. Sturtevant tallied a three-to-one margin among the 10,000 who cast ballots. The surge erased Gecker’s lead, and, ultimately, ensured the Republican’s victory.
Throughout the night, Sturtevant told reporters, he remained “cautiously optimistic” because of the door-to-door efforts of his campaign team over the last 10 months. “We did the hard work,” he says. “We put in the sweat equity.”
He needed every drop. In the final tally, Sturtevant received 27,665 votes (49.57 percent) and Gecker received 26,171 (46.89 percent). Independent Marleen Durfee received 1,136 votes (2.04 percent). Libertarian Carl Loser earned 527 votes (.95 percent).
Gecker's campaign conceded the election Wednesday morning, according to reports.