(CNN) - Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, will beat Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli Tuesday to become Virginia's next governor, CNN projects, ending a race that largely focused on national issues and saw heated attacks between the two candidates.
In his victory speech, McAuliffe painted his win as a point for bipartisanship.
"This election was never a choice between Democrats and Republicans, it was a choice about whether Virginia would continue the mainstream, bipartisan tradition that has served us so well over the last decade," he said, offering praise to both the incumbent Republican governor and his Republican rival.
Of the two gubernatorial races this year, the contest in Virginia was by far the closest, and Tuesday night ended in a narrow victory for McAuliffe.
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"I always said it was going to be close," McAuliffe told CNN's Dana Bash. "I always said it was going to be a couple of points from the day I got in."
"We knew it was going to be tough," he added. "(We had a) great field team, great volunteers– spectacular. It's a great win. We're happy and now we got a lot of work to do."
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For months McAuliffe held a small, consistent lead in public opinion polls over Cuccinelli, who was considered a hero by many tea party supporters and other grass-roots activists, thanks to his very public conservative crusades, including his push against Obamacare.
A third-party candidate, libertarian Robert Sarvis, was thought to be a potential spoiler. Sarvis was taking around 8% to 10% of the vote in recent polls, a significant chunk with the race between the Republican and Democratic candidates so close.
McAuliffe will succeed Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who didn't run for re-election because Virginia governors cannot serve consecutive terms.
The main two campaigns engaged in nasty political warfare that took over the airwaves in Virginia. McAuliffe made sure women were aware of Cuccinelli's support of "personhood" legislation that critics say restricts abortion and some forms of birth control.
Cuccinelli has frequently highlighted federal investigations of an electric car company that McAuliffe co-founded.
Both sides also attempted to frame the race as a referendum on larger national issues. Cuccinelli's supporters argued a vote against McAuliffe was a vote against Obamacare.
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"We said this race was a referendum on Obamacare, and although I lost, tonight you sent a message to the president of the United States...that Obamacare is a failure and that you want to be in charge of your health care– not the government," Cuccinelli said in his speech Tuesday night.
McAuliffe and Democrats pinned Cuccinelli as a tea party activist, linking him to conservative lawmakers in Washington who initiated a strategy that eventually led to last month's government shutdown.
Although McAuliffe came out on top, neither candidate was particularly well-liked. A Quinnipiac Poll released Monday showed 42% of likely voters had a favorable opinion of the Democrat, while 45% had an unfavorable view. Cuccinelli also had a negative favorability rating, 38% to 52%.
Cuccinelli particularly struggled to gain support among women and to unite the commonwealth's GOP base.
High-profile surrogates came out to bat for the two main gubernatorial hopefuls in the last weeks of the campaign. President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden all hit the trail for McAuliffe.
Cuccinelli, meanwhile, had support from GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Former Rep. Ron Paul also endorsed the attorney general and headlined an event for Cuccinelli on Monday night.
With McAuliffe's win, he breaks a long streak in Virginia gubernatorial contests. In the last nine elections, the party controlling the White House lost the governor's race.
When McAuliffe is sworn in, Republicans will control 29 of the nation's governorships, down from 30 before his victory.
Very Proud Terry Mcauliffe won. I would also like to say to the Republican party SHAME ON YOU FOR TRYING TO KEEP PEOPLE FROM VOTING IN OTHER STATES. NC. TEXAS SHAME ON THE GOP.
God help the state of VA. We must not let this man take away our rights. Prepare for the worst if the Clintons help him.
Woo-Hoo! Congratulations GOVERNOR McAuliffe!!!!! A Democrat governor in Virginia!!! I LOVE it!!!!!!!! To the GOP ~~ Take that back to your stinking Tea Party and drink it!!!
Life is GOOD!
One thing's for sure: the pollsters had a bad VA race. The aggregate from late last week had McAuliffe up by 9.25%. Some individual polls were as low as s 5 point lead, others as high as a 12 point lead. It's early (7:22 PST), but the consensus seems to be a 2 point win for McAuliffe tonight.
My analysis after reading some of the numbers: Sarvis was a factor ... against McAuliffe! The 19-30 "Ron Paul demographic" took more votes away from McAuliffe than from Cuccinelli. I suspect that if Sarvis hadn't been in there, 50% of the PaulBots would've stayed home; and about 60% of the remaining 50% would have gone for McAuliffe. There is also evidence that Cuccinelli got some game back by turning the fight into a referendum on the ACA. Of course, that being said, the Dem still won, so I don't think Cuccinelli won over any Democrats - he just fired up some conservatives who might otherwise have stayed home. McAuliffe, by the way, is not all that well liked by liberals (only the Clinton family seems to like him), so Cuccinelli got a little boost there.
In any case, the pollsters had better look at their models and get their act together. Bad night, boys and girls.
As usual these days, urban Leftists inflicted themselves on an entire state.
Republicans are going lost more on this Obama care law, they are like children and one down coupled more come in 2014 ,only stupid person fall on the same spot over and over, democrats will keep winning on Obama care and the American are going to like this law when is implemented
The GOP spin on this will be choice!
At least they cannot say Cooch was not conservative enough, as there are few more women hating GOP candidates the Cooch and so therefore, the "messenger" was the problem will not fly in this argument.
I do not want them to realize it really is the GOP "message" so, I await with bated breath the results from the forthcoming "autopsy" and delivered by the medical examiner himself, Prince Prebius dressed as a very pliable Gumby!
The GOP 2014 campaign slogan: "Ignorance is Bliss"!
Now, about those New Yorkers returning a Dem to the mayoral office after a 20 year hiatus...
Tough night for Fox and CNN?
How many more winnable races must Republicans lose before they figure out that the Tea Party is an anchor around their necks?
I think the tide is changing .
It's about time we put down the Tea.
This just in: Gallup poll has Cuccinelli up by five points
Congratulation, let's go to work for all people of Virginia...
She won because Virginia is being overrun by Yankees and imigrants who vote Democrat.
I told long time ago, Terry wins. I even posted way ahead of result. Congrats–Terry.
It hasn't been reported in the media, but a big part of what made the race close was the purge of over 40,000 voters by SOS Ken Cuccinelli. Almost all the voters removed from the rolls were women and Democrats.
GOP is pretty much gone to dogs. Proof? VA.