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Yellow and black "Win with Warner" billboards lined the streets of Virginia's capital yesterday as the state went to the polls to elect the future governor and other state representatives. Election Day dawned with a 10-point lead for gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner over Republican Mark Earley, unprecedented for a Democrat in the state of Virginia. However, the question still lingered about which of the two candidates would be able to call the governor's mansion home at the end of the day.

The pre-party

5:15 p.m. - The Richmond Marriott's Grand Ballroom was an explosion of patriotic colors, as Democratic supporters dashed around, decorating with red and blue balloons and campaign billboards. Trays full of plastic-wrapped fruit, veggies and cheese lined several banquet tables, waiting for party-goers at the evening's victory celebration for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner.

Across the ballroom, Warner himself strolled around, greeting supporters and taking a minute to thank one young supporter, 8-year-old Morgan Drucker of Alexandria.

"He's nice and I think he'd make a good governor," Morgan said, smiling through her braces as she proudly displayed her "Warner for Governor" sticker.

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  • "I like him because he has really fun Halloween parties at his house in Old Town," added her 9-year-old sister Jarron.

    The Drucker sisters went to pre-school in Alexandria with Warner's daughters. Their mother, Ronda Drucker, a flight attendant with Continental Airlines, said the family has been friends with the Warners since 1992 and that his education policy was most important to her and her family.

    A day at the polls

    "Vote for Warner" signs monopolized the strip of lawn in front near Henrico High School's front entrance, greeting people before they went to vote in the school's gymnasium.

    Voters at Henrico were among the first to use the state's new electronic voting system.

    Terrill Richardson, Henrico's officer of elections, explained that the site was one of two in the state testing out the new voting system. Voters crowded around the entrance of Henrico's dimly lit gymnasium as Richardson and other election volunteers gave demonstrations on how to properly use the touch-screen computer voting system.

    "I liked it better than the other one with the punch cards. This was much quicker, much easier," said Richmond resident Kelly Clark after she finished voting. Clark, who works down the street from the school at the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, said she voted for Warner simply because, "I've always voted Democratic."

    Outside, in the crisp autumn air, Richmond resident Jerry Pleasant sported an "I Voted" sticker after having taken time off from his job in a nearby factory to place his vote for Warner.

    "I liked his campaign and his tax plan," Pleasant said with a simple shrug before heading to his car.

    In a largely African-American district of Richmond, Earley supporters at the Henrico polling site were few and far between. But Ray Patterson, a retired Richmond resident, had a simple logic for his support of Mark Earley:

    "I don't want Warner, that's for sure. He's a Democrat; I'm a Republican."

    Back at the entrance of the polls, Kim Isbell, an attorney with the Democratic Legal Committee, stood on guard.

    Wearing a red pin with the words "Make Every Vote Count," Isbell had the job of settling any legal disputes that arose at the various precincts.

    "Virginia is one of the test cases," she said of her job. "They want to roll it on nationwide next year."

    With regards to the gubernatorial campaign, Isbell said she was unsure of how different the two candidates really were.

    "Warner's running as a fiscal conservative and many of my Republican friends are voting for him for that very reason," she said. "I think this has been a very negative campaign. The Republicans sent out mail accusing the Democrats of being 'homo lovers.' The mailings were really over the line."

    Countdown to victory

    7 p.m. - Pop music blared from the speakers of the Grand Ballroom as crowds of Warner supporters swarmed the Marriott in the waning hours of Election day.

    Above the crowd, a broom could be seen, brandishing campaign stickers for Warner, as well as lieutenant governor candidate Tim Kaine and attorney general candidate Don McEachin.

    "We're going to take the top three positions and we also want to sweep the government clean," said a grinning Cleveland Lamison, the proud owner of the campaign broom. The broom is "a symbolic thing to do in politics," he added, noting that it would help to clean up Virginia's current budget problems.

    Richmond businesswoman Debbie Johnston showed her support for Warner and for America by wearing a bright red fur coat with a blue and white striped scarf and rhinestone American flag pin.

    "He's an entrepreneur like me and I think Virginia needs a governor who is a business man," she said. Having never attended a political campaign party before, Johnston said she was excited about the evening's events.

    "I think the champagne will pop and the balloons will drop," she said before strolling into the "Virginia for Warner" party taking place in the Marriott's lower level ballroom.

    The lower level ballroom was in full Democratic regalia with hand-painted signs reading "Warner is the Man" and "Warner Rocks" covering the walls. Standing near a "Republicans for Warner" sign was Warner's financial director, Stan Maupin, a self-described moderate Republican.

    "If he wins, he'll be the first businessman to run the state of Virginia in 48 years," Maupin remarked.

    Back in the Grand Ballroom, spirits were on the rise as crowds packed in closer to the stage and the lines for the bar grew longer.

    By 9:15 p.m., it looked like Warner was indeed going to get to tackle the state's problems, as preliminary returns pointed to his victory.

    The tunes of "We Will Rock You" and "That's the Way I Like It" blasted across the ballroom, prompting several Democratic supporters to break out into dance.

    At 10 p.m. Richmond's Fox News broadcasted that "Warner wins handily." Moments later, Mark Earley's concession speech elicited boos and cheers from the raucous Democratic crowd.

    And it was another 45 minutes before Warner appeared for his long-awaited victory speech.

    After a welcoming strain of banjo music, with the crowd chanting his name, the new Democratic governor of Virginia appeared.

    "Tomorrow a lot of hard work lies ahead, but tonight, let's celebrate," Warner said.


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