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Va's biggest, costliest election in voters' hands

Associated Press Modified: November 6, 2012 at 9:46 pm •  Published: November 6, 2012
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Long lines of determined voters ensured that some precincts would remain open late into a cold night Tuesday, delaying the outcome of pivotal presidential and U.S. Senate races in the battleground of Virginia.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney were in a toss-up race that was too close to call late Tuesday for the 13 electoral votes that both parties consider vital for victory.

The same was true for two former governors, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen, who are battling for the seat Democratic Sen. Jim Webb is vacating. The outcome could determine whether Democrats keep their narrow U.S. Senate majority.

All 11 of Virginia's U.S. House members cruised to easy victories over little-known challengers.

Four years ago, Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to win Virginia in a presidential race. The president had a lead in polling and appeared headed for a repeat in Virginia until Romney pulled within the statistical margin of error in October, after Obama's poor performance in the first presidential debate.

Spending in the Senate race topped $80 million, obliterating all records for a statewide race in Virginia. The majority, $53 million, came from outside, independent organizations, many of which do not have to disclose their wealthy donors. That's the largest amount for any Senate contest in the country this election cycle. About 60 percent of that money was spent either in opposition to Kaine or support of Allen.

All 11 of the state's congressmen — eight Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and three Democrats — faced challengers to their re-election, most of them little-known newcomers.

Voters cast ballots on a constitutional amendment to limit eminent domain, which is the government's ability to take private property for economic development needs. Virginia's legislature outlawed the practice in 2007, leading opponents to say the amendment is not needed.

Long lines at voting precincts across the state creating exhausting waits for voters, many of whom braved temperatures in the 40s. Some gave up and went home.

Don Palmer, executive secretary of the State Board of Elections, said extensive queues would force polls to remain open in some of the state's largest localities hours beyond their 7 p.m. closing times. They included the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Giles, Halifax, Henrico, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Culpeper and Montgomery and the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Virginia Beach.

In Prince William County, officials expected some precincts to remain open until nearly 11 p.m. to accommodate voters who had taken their spots in line by 7 p.m.

The state's new voter ID law was not a factor. The law required people who lacked proper identification to vote a provisional ballot that would count only if local registrars receive proof of identity by noon Friday. But the SBE had received fewer than 500 provisional ballots by 10 p.m. The law was passed by Republicans in the name of preventing fraud but decried by critics as a bid to suppress the votes of Democratic constituencies such as minorities, the poor, elderly and disabled.

In a heavily Democratic, mostly black area near downtown Richmond, chief election officer Susan Woodson said that by midafternoon, more than 1,500 of the precinct's 3,000 registered voters had cast ballots, and only five required provisional ballots because of the new law.

In the campaign's final week, both presidential candidates and their A-list surrogates have blanketed Virginia, which for 40 years was a reliably Republican afterthought in presidential politics.

Romney made six stops in Virginia in the past week, about the same number as his running mate, Paul Ryan.

Obama headlined one late-night rally Saturday with more than 25,000 people at an outdoor amphitheater in northern Virginia with former President Bill Clinton and rocker Dave Matthews. Vice President Joe Biden spent Sunday and Monday crisscrossing Virginia, making four stops, one of them with musician John Mellencamp.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat in Prince William County, Va., and Brock Vergakis in Richmond contributed to this report.