McDonnell, a conservative former state attorney general, had about 60 percent of the vote with most precincts reporting. He takes back the governor’s office after eight years of Democrat control.
The election largely turned on independent voters, who preferred McDonnell by nearly a 2-1 ratio over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, exit polls showed. It was a shift from 2008, when independents in the state split about evenly between the parties.
The race, along with one in New Jersey, has been closely watched as a potential referendum on Obama and his policies. Obama was the first Democrat in 44 years to carry Virginia in a presidential race.
Virginia voters were split on Obama’s job perfor- mance, exit polls showed. While many said the president was not a factor in their votes for governor, about a quarter said their vote for McDonnell was also a rejection of Obama.
“I hope this will kind of send a message to Congress that you better do what we want or we won’t re-elect you,” said Linda Doland, 60, a nanny in suburban Richmond who voted for McDonnell.
“You’re supposed to represent us,” she said. “I don’t think the present administration is really listening to the people.”
Voters expressed angst about major Obama initiatives such as health care, energy and stimulus spending. But McDonnell dominated the campaign’s central issues: jobs and the economy.
In Associated Press surveys at polling places statewide, about eight in 10 voters said they were worried about the direction of the nation’s economy, and the majority of those favored McDonnell.
McDonnell will succeed Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who is barred by state law from seeking a second term. Kaine directed $6 million in DNC money into Virginia for Deeds and other Democratic candidates.
Deeds, a moderate country lawyer and state senator, never energized the party’s liberal activists despite campaigning twice with President Barack Obama.
In other Virginia races, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling won re-election over Democrat Jody Wagner, and Republican Kenneth Cuccinelli was elected attorney general over Democrat Steve Shannon with about the same share of the vote as McDonnell. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates were up for election, with contested races for 69 seats.