RICHMOND, Va. -- Republican supporters were hopeful at the beginning of their party's election night gathering at the Hilton Hotel in Short Pump Tuesday evening. But the good times did not last long as their gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie was handily defeated by Democrat Ralph Northam early in the evening as Democrats swept elections across the Commonwealth.
"As I said throughout the course of this campaign, governor-elect Northam is a good man and I appreciate his service to our country and our Commonwealth,” Gillespie said to his supporters, who cheered him on. After a brutal campaign with vicious attacks, Gillespie struck a conciliatory and humble tone in his concession speech.
“I wish him nothing but best success as our 73rd governor and told him that if I can be helpful to him in making our Commonwealth better, that I would be happy to do anything that I could in that regard,” Gillespie added.
Northam beat Gillespie with 54 to 45 percent of the vote. Experts had expected a much thinner margin in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election.
In his campaign, Gillespie had tried to strike a balance between adopting President Donald Trump’s policies and holding him at arm’s length. President Trump had endorsed Gillespie on Twitter before the election, but never campaigned for him in person.
Soon after the election was called for Northam, Trump tweeted while on state visit in South Korea and made his displeasure with Gillespie known:
“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”
Jill Vogel, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said at the Election Night event that Republicans did all they could throughout the campaign. She lost to Democrat Justin Fairfax 47 to 53 percent.
“We didn't win, but it's not always about winning and losing, it's about making your campaign mean something,” Vogel said. “Starting tomorrow, the issues we talk about will be issues that move Virginians to do more and to do better and to reach deeper and to actually solve real problems and to not be about division, but to be about solutions.”
Attorney General candidate John Adams congratulated Democratic incumbent Mark Herring on his re-election. Herring defeated Adams 53 to 47 percent. Then Adams focused on the future of the Republican party in Virginia.
"I want you to note that the ideals that we stand for as a party are timeless, and there are bumps in the road, but the road continues and it starts again tomorrow,” Adams said. “Standing up for what we believe in, standing up for what we know is right and convincing our fellow citizens that it’s the principles our party is founded on that will lead to greater freedom, greater opportunity and greater equality overall.”
Virginia Republicans congratulated their opponents on their victories throughout the Commonwealth while also showing appreciation of their own party’s efforts throughout this fall’s election campaign.
“All House members and Republican candidates considered it a privilege to run as part of a unified ticket with Ed Gillespie, Jill Vogel, and John Adams,” Matt Moran, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said in a statement. “They are distinguished public servants and should be thanked for their willingness to step forward and lead. We also want to thank our colleagues and fellow Republican candidates who ran principled campaigns based on positive ideas in a difficult political environment.”
Some Gillespie, Vogel and Adams supporters said that they wished that the election had gone a different way, but added that this result will only make the Republican Party stronger.
Sen. Amanda Chase (R - Midlothian) said at the campaign party that she and her fellow Republicans already have a plan in place to move past Tuesday’s defeat.
“We have a few ideas,” Chase said. “Beginning tomorrow, we’re going to regroup and we’re going to work hard for the next cycle of elections. We’ll learn, we’ll regroup and we’ll figure out what we need to do better.”
But Republicans will have a long road to recovery as Democrats also won a surprising number of seats in the House of Delegates. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Democrats won 16 seats in the House and no clear majority is at hand as seats are split 50 to 50 between the two parties.
Recounts are expected in several House races that will likely determine whether Republicans can still keep a slim majority after all.
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.