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Democratic challenger Tom Perriello's lead in he 5th District Congressional race jumped to 814 votes Thursday afternoon, as the vote counts continued to be updated following Tuesday's election.
Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, after holding onto the slimmest of leads for most of the day Wednesday, fell behind challenger Tom Perriello by 31 votes in late afternoon updates Thursday's update turned worse for Goode.
In the race, Perriello led 158,516 to 157,702 over Goode as of 2 p.m. Thursday.
The lead is small enough to allow the losing party to ask for a recount and make the winner the “your vote counts” poster boy of 2008.
“This is a tight election,” Goode said during a conference call late Wednesday morning, while he was still leading. “We are optimistic when every valid vote is counted that we will be ahead.”
Goode said he would have to wait until the canvass of the votes is through before deciding on the next step. He noted that if the race is within a half of a percent the losing party can call for a recount.
“I'm pretty calm about it,” Goode said.
Goode, who said he stayed up watching returns until about 1:30 a.m., said he had not heard from the Perriello campaign.
“We listened to the returns throughout the evening and knew that the race was really close,” he said. “I got a few hours sleep.”
Goode said the campaign has representatives in each jurisdiction observing the canvass to help assure everything is conducted in accordance with election law.
“We are watching and listening and waiting,” Goode said.
Goode said, should he trail after the canvass, that he would evaluate whether to call for a recount.
Goode said he was expecting a close race. “I'm just glad we're ahead at this point,” he said prior to falling behind later Wednesday afternoon.
He said the vote shifted back and forth throughout Tuesday evening's returns.
“When the AP called it for us there was a lot of cheering,” he said of Tuesday night. “When we were down by 2,000 there was a lot of concern.”
Goode said the campaign is staying in touch with each jurisdiction and making notes about what its observers report back.
“I think there is some question about some of the provisional ballots as to whether they complied to Virginia law,” he said.”We just want a fair vote count and we're optimistic at the end of a fair vote count we'll be ahead.”
Tom Perriello stopped by Bedford early Wednesday afternoon to congratulate his staff and campaign volunteers. At that stage, the state board of election's Web site still showed Goode with a slight lead.
“We have to make sure every vote cast is counted,” Perriello said.
Perriello credited his staff with bringing them to that point. He said that at one stage in the campaign, polls showed him 34 points behind.
“No one thought we had a chance in this race,” he said.
Perriello said that he avoided what he termed as the normal partisanship in the race. He said that in addition to Democrats, he had independents and Republicans volunteering to help him. He believes this bipartisan coalition gives him a mandate to go to Washington and do something. He noted that he had winning margins in Southside areas, not simply in Albemarle County.
He said he made some decisions early on that proved fruitful. One was to avoid focusing on tearing his opponent apart. The other was to put more into grassroots organizing rather than television advertising. He also said he he assumed that voters are smarter than politicians give them credit for being.
“This was a people-powered campaign,” he said. “No one expected us to be here.”
Perriello said that his campaign had representatives at the vast majority of vote canvassing sites, Wednesday. Each side is allowed representatives to observe the process.
According to Perriello, both political parties in Washington have been part of the problem. They've been too concerned with hanging on to 51 percent, he said, adding that, for too long the only people who are thinking big have been on the extremes.
“Win or lose, we have shown that a better kind of politics is possible,” Perriello said.
Perriello wouldn't speculate about a recount. He said he hoped that the count would put him on top.
“Win or lose, our volunteers have been incredible,” he said.
Along with complimenting those who worked on the campaign, he had kind words for Goode. He credited Goode for showing leadership in the 5th District.
Goode's and Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte's margins of victory were much higher in the Bedford area.
Goode received 61.70 percent of the county's vote, while Democratic challenger Tom Perriello received 38.24 percent. Goodlatte, the incumbent 6th congressional district representative buried his Democratic challenger Sam Rasoul. Goodlatte got 75.83 percent of the vote, while only 22.85 percent of the county's voters opted for Rasoul.
Although the Bedford area bucked the state trend, Barack Obama became the first Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Virginia since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The Commonwealth contributed its 13 electoral votes to Obama's 349 electoral vote win.
Voters in the city of Bedford favored McCain over Obama 54.75 percent to 44.18 percent (1,497 to 1,208). Bedford County favored McCain by 68.17 percent to 30.75 (24,402 to 11,007).
Democrat Mark Warner was declared the winner early on Tuesday as Virginia's newest U.S. senator, soundly defeating Republican James Gilmore. Warner also outpaced Gilmore among city and county voters. Warner led among city voters 1,748 to 894 (65.54 percent to 33.52 percent). County voters preferred Warner by a smaller margin, 17,849 to 17,070 ( 50.70 percent to 48.49 percent).
Republican Bob Goodlatte is headed back for another term in the 6th District. He defeated Democratic challenger Sam Rasoul with 61.38 of the vote.
Only four candidates were running for the four Bedford City Council seats. With all the votes counted except the absentee ballots, those results included: Jeffrey B. Hubbard with 1,288 votes, Steve C. Rush with 1,175 votes, W.D. “Skip” Tharp with 1,426 votes and Robert T. “Bob” Wandrei with 1,224 votes.
The Bedford area had a wet, busy, peaceful election day. Both city and county election workers saw happenings they had never seen before.
“At 5:45 a.m. we had people down the sidewalk, in the rain,” said Patsy Martin, who heads up the poll Visitors Center, where one of the city's two wards vote.
They were waiting to get in to cast their ballots. Poll workers divided them in two lines so that they could get out of the rain and wait in the lobby, staying dry until the poll opened. By 4:10 p.m., 884 people had cast their ballots.
“It has gone very smoothly,” Martin said.
They were ready. They had four voting machines instead of the usual three. They also had six extra poll workers. In addition, two high school students helped out, explaining the sample ballots to voters. This year both the presidential and congressional ballots were all on one screen and the teens explained this to voters.
“Everybody has been pleasant,” she said. “We haven't had any grumpy people.”
They didn't have any grumpy voting machines, either. They worked.
Martin said that there were a few cases where county voters showed up at this city ward. She said that they were able to call Randi Herrick, the city's voter registrar, with these folks Social Security numbers and she was able to quickly find out where these people were supposed to vote and direct them there. Martin's workers also had to fill out a lot of change of address forms. They also took voting machines out to 10 handicapped people who had requested curbside voting.
The county precinct that votes at the Public Authority, on Falling Creek Road, also saw a tremendous turnout.
D. J. Ashwell, who heads up the precinct, said that he has worked polls for more than 20 years and had never seen anything like it. When the poll opened, people were already lined up all the way to the highway, in the rain. They were even knocking at the door.
Ashwell said that 100 people had voted in the first hour. By 5:05 p.m. they had seen 932 people come through the doors. That, combined with absentee ballots already sent in, brought voter turnout to 68 percent and he expected to hit the 75 percent mark by the time the poll closes.
The county, like the city, was ready. Ashwell said his precinct had three instead of the usual two voting machines. The number of poll workers increased from five to seven.
The Sheriff's Office was also ready. Captain Tim Hayden said that eight officers had been stopping by county polling places since 6:30 a.m. There were no problems.
For some voters, election day is something they never miss. William Burnette, of Bedford, said he has been voting for 50 years.
Why does he do it?
“To get the right man,” he replied.
For others, it was their first time. Timothy Baron, a Staunton River High School student who had just turned 18, cast his first ballot at the PSA polling place Tuesday evening.
“I'm going to be in the military soon,” he said. “I want to have a say in who my commander in chief will be.
Baron, who will join the Army National Guard and serve with Bedford's A Company, also said that voting is his responsibility.
Howard and Linda Alexander, county residents, believe in the importance of voting.
“I always vote,” said Howard. “I vote every year.”
“We want to pick the right person and get this country in order,” said Linda. “It's very important to vote.”
“I gotta vote, I just got to,” commented Chris Clyburn.
In the 2004 presidential election, voters in the city of Bedford went for Republican incumbent President George W. Bush over Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry by a 58 percent to 41 percent margin. In 2000, Bush won 52 percent to 44 percent over Democratic candidate Al Gore.
In the 2004 presidential election, voters in Bedford County supported Bush by a 70 percent to 29 percent margin over Kerry while Bush won out over Gore in 2000 by a 66 percent to 31 percent margin.
Voters in Bedford and Bedford County turned out in high numbers to cast their ballots in both the presidential and congressional races Tuesday.
Area precincts reported heavy turnout in both the county and the city.
Roxanne Funk and her daughter, 18-year-old Victoria Funk, showed up to vote at the Bedford Central Library precinct around 8:30 a.m. “I think it's important for everybody to vote,” Roxanne Funk said. “I think we need a big change.”
Victoria Funk agreed. “There's so many people who don't get a say in their government,” she said of taking advantage of her first chance to cast a ballot. “In this country we get to do that.”
She said the economy and education were the top issues of this election. Both Victoria and her mom were supporting Sen. Barack Obama for president. “I think he stands more for the little people than the big companies,” Roxanne said of Obama.
Robert and Pauline Korpanty were supporting Sen. John McCain.
“We were encouraged at church to vote,” Pauline Korpanty said. “We believe Christians ought to be the best kind of citizens.”
Both said they were conservatives. “I'm a registered Republican with a very independent heart,” Pauline explained, adding she had voted split tickets in the past and doesn't like the idea of voting “lock step” along party lines.
Robert Korpanty said he thought the presidential race was important this year because of the appointment of Supreme Court justices, which the president makes. He said that McCain could have run a better campaign, stating that the economy did well under President Bush until the Democrats took over in Congress. “He (McCain) could have been a little more aggressive. He may still pull it out.”
Jason Harris, 31, said he turned out to vote because of “the historical nature of this election.” He said change in Washington D.C. is needed.
Harris, a teacher at Staunton River Middle School, said education was a key issue for him, stating that the No Child Left Behind Act needs to be changed, giving more flexibility — and less mandates — to the states and local school systems.
Walter and Kathryn Bonds also turned out early to vote in Bedford. “We want to make things better,” Kathryn, 72, said of what brought the couple out to vote. “We need all the help we can get.”
She said they supported Obama. “I liked what he said,” she said, stating the country had gotten in bad shape. “I just liked his issues. I just hope everything goes well and things get better.”
Voter turnout in Bedford and Bedford County was heading towards record numbers.
“Things have been going wonderfully well,” City Registrar Randi Herrick said late Tuesday afternoon, in between phone calls from poll workers and media representatives. “It's been busy at the polls.”
Herrick said by 3 p.m. voter turnout had reached better than 50 percent and she expected it to reach as high as 70 percent. Some 70 percent of the city's registered voters cast ballots in the 2004 presidential election. If absentee votes were an indication, that mark should be surpassed. Herrick said the city received around 350 absentee ballots, more than double any other election.
The city has 3,917 registered voters.
The city hadn't experienced any problems with its voting machines. She said even before the polls opened at 6 a.m. there were lines of people waiting to vote. “Our election officers have done a wonderful job of setting up the polling places and handling the voters,” she said. She estimated the longest wait a voter had to experience was 25 minutes.
Many of the calls she received Tuesday were about Bedford County voters showing up at city precincts to vote. “Some people just don't know where to go,” she said.
Bedford County Registrar Barbara Gunter expected turnout in the county to exceed 80 percent. “The day started out as we expected with long lines at every precinct,” Gunter said. “What we had was about a 40 minute wait.”
By 9 a.m. the lines were down to the typical wait at a county precinct, 15 to 20 minutes, she said. “That's very reasonable for a presidential election,” Gunter said.
About 50 percent of Bedford County's 46,311 voters had shown up to vote by noon. In addition, 7 percent of the county's voters had cast absentee ballots, some 3,500 in all.
Gunter said one machine at a county precinct when it was turned on Tuesday morning didn't work properly so it was replaced prior to any votes being cast on it. The county registrar's office was also receiving a steady flow of calls concerning questions about where residents should be voting. “There are lots of people who've moved and failed to update their address,” she said. Gunter said she had talked with one first-time voter who had concerns about the display of a voting machine.
The county has 29 precincts and the absentee votes are also split into an additional two precincts, one representing voters from the Fifth Congressional District one for the Sixth Congressional District. Six poll workers spent the day with the absentee ballots, qualifying the envelopes prior to the ballots being counted after 7 p.m.
Gunter said she was “pleasantly surprised” with how smooth the election had gone, following media reports that Virginia wasn't prepared to handle the high turnout. The county had 218 poll workers scattered among its 29 precincts.
By 5 p.m. at Bedford Republican Party Headquarters on N. Bridge Street, Republican faithful were getting food ready for those who would show up to watch the returns come in. Volunteer Betty Fitzgerald said she was concerned about how some states had allowed early voting. “If we are going to have a united country than we need a united voting (effort),” she said. “I don't see how it can be a fair election if it's not.”
Carolyn Detraz said there had been greet enthusiasm in this year's election. “The young people are involved,” she said.
Volunteers at the Bedford City/County Democratic Headquarters on W. Main Street were also excited about the enthusiasm this year's election had generated. “This is the culmination of a lot of effort,” stated James Jones, who lives in Sedalia. “This is an unprecedented organizing effort.”
Both Obama and Tom Perriello, the Democratic candidate challenging Republican incumbent Virgil Goode for the 5th District Congressional seat, have had their own workers there helping to organize the campaigns' efforts. “They gave us a level of sophistication in organizing that we previously didn't have,” Jones said. “Our candidates are energizing us as well. (Sen.) Obama is inspiring.
“We just didn't feel quite the same way about McCain. He's just not the leader for the 21st century,” Jones added.
Jones said the organizing effort included phone calls, door-knocking and canvassing. He said plenty of high school age youth had turned out to help with the efforts. On Tuesday, much of the effort was focused on having a presence at the polls as well as working to make sure voters turned out to vote.
“There was a tremendous amount of calling and canvassing to get out the vote,” Jones said.
He felt Virginia would go for Obama and also expected a close race between Perriello and Goode. “It will be a very tight race,” he said of the 5th Congressional District election.