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McDonnell and GOP win state races, sweep Twin Counties

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Bob McDonnell steamrolled Creigh Deeds in Tuesday's gubernatorial election as part of a dominating night for Republican candidates who prevailed in the other two statewide races and gained seats to increase the party's majority in the House of Delegates.

The Republican ticket swept the City of Galax and Carroll and Grayson counties, as well.

"Working together as Virginians, we will find those new ways to solve the problems that face us and to create more jobs and new opportunities," McDonnell told supporters during his victory speech.

McDonnell, a former attorney general and state delegate from Virginia Beach, thanked those who supported him and offered an olive branch to those who didn't.

"For those of you who did not support me, I say to you, give me a chance to earn your trust and work with you for the betterment of the commonwealth of Virginia," he said.

A staunch conservative on many issues, McDonnell's successful campaign strategy emphasized kitchen table concerns rather than social ideology.

His message of restoring economic prosperity and creating jobs appeared to resonate with voters worried about the recession and national policies coming out of Washington.

While making a case for himself, McDonnell maligned federal proposals to cap greenhouse gas emissions and make it easier for workers to unionize, claiming Deeds supported those "job killing" policies favored by national Democrats.

Conversely, McDonnell rolled out plans to fund transportation, education and other core services without raising taxes, saying he'll trim wasteful spending.

National GOP Chairman Michael Steele said McDonnell's approach translates well with voters.

"He takes those principles, his conservative principles, and applies them in a 21st Century way to the problems that people have," Steele told reporters Tuesday night. "He's not sitting in judgment over their lives and their successes and their failures. He's not telling them, 'This is how to live your life' or what to do. He's saying, 'You've got problems and these are some solutions that I think would be helpful to you.' "

Born of rural stock and representing a Bath County district, Deeds is a more conservative Democrat whose leanings perhaps aren't as liberal as those of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine or President Barack Obama.

Against McDonnell, it was believed that quality would make Deeds an appealing candidate in regions of the state where Democrats often don't run well.

The best laid plans, however, don't always yield the expected results.

Deeds didn't carry some of the rural areas he was expected to, and he underperformed in northern Virginia, where Democrats tend to rack up big margins.

Democrats throughout the campaign accused McDonnell of adopting a moderate image to cloak his true beliefs.

Exhibit A in that argument was the governor-elect's 1989 graduate thesis advocating a conservative social agenda in government.

Polls showed that message gained some traction after the thesis came to light in late August, but the momentum was short-lived.

Although McDonnell's polling leads narrowed at the peak of the post-thesis fervor, Deeds never overtook the Republican, who recovered, then expanded, his edge.

"We have challenges ahead," Deeds told a crowd of roughly 200 disappointed supporters Tuesday night. "Those challenges aren't disappearing just because we didn't get the result we wanted tonight. We've got some work ahead of us if we want to create opportunity, prosperity and hope in every corner of the commonwealth."

Deeds remains a member of the state Senate and is almost certain to be a vocal opponent of McDonnell's proposals in that chamber.

Kaine acknowledged his party took it on the chin, saying, "We've got to give credit where credit is due. The other ticket ran a good campaign."

McDonnell's victory ends eight years of Democratic control of the governor's mansion and mutes some of the recent electoral gains made by the party in Virginia.

"He has a pliable House of Delegates and that's an assist," University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said. "But his problems are the economy and the state Senate. As long as there's no money in the coffers, he's not going to be able to do very much. And as long as Democrats control the Senate."

The sweep by Republicans, coupled with the GOP defeat of the incumbent Democratic governor in New Jersey, is certain to raise questions about Kaine's stewardship as national party chairman. Virginia's current governor reluctantly accepted Obama's offer to serve as the head of Democratic National Committee early this year.

"Kaine's legacy is a partisan legacy, and he goes out the door as a loser," said Christopher Newport University political science professor Quentin Kidd, who noted the outcome reinforces "the lesson that it's really hard to be governor of Virginia and chairman of a national political party."

McDonnell's convincing win, Kidd added, instantly makes him "a rising national figure in the Republican Party."