TYSONS CORNER, Va. (AP) - Democrat Terry McAuliffe has been elected Virginia's next governor, defeating Republican Ken Cuccinelli after pledging to expand the state's Medicaid rolls and portraying his rival as someone who would turn back years of progress.
McAuliffe received 47 percent to Cuccinelli's 46 percent, with 97 precincts reporting.
Turnout for Tuesday's election was low, and both candidates worked through Election Day to reach as many potential voters as possible.
McAuliffe, who once led the Democratic National Committee and is a confidant of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, said he would expand Medicaid to provide health coverage for 400,000 people under the federal health care law. By contrast, Cuccinelli, the current attorney general, vehemently opposed the law and tried to cast the election as a referendum on President Barack Obama's signature legislation.
The McAuliffe-Cuccinelli race was widely considered a bellwether for the 2014 midterm elections, when control of Congress is up for grabs.
Cuccinelli thanks his supporters while giving a concession speech shortly after McAuliffe was declared the winner. He said he was outspent by $15 million but the race was still very close.
“We fought for the principals that were first articulated for the whole world by Virginians,” Cuccinelli said. “You have sent a message tonight.”
"The battle goes on," he said.
McAuliffe enjoyed a sizable lead in polls leading up to the election and raised millions more than his GOP opponent, allowing him to buy far more TV airtime for ads. At campaign stops and on television ads, the Democrat cast Cuccinelli as an extremist whose staunch anti-abortion stance would reverse years of progress in expanding abortion rights.
Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite, enlisted the help of big names like Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky to turn out his loyal conservative base. Even Vice President Joe Biden warned Democrats not to underestimate the tea party's ability to get out the vote, telling supporters on Monday: "Don't take this for granted, man."
Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012, but Virginia is evenly split among Republicans and Democrats and far fewer people turn out in off-year elections.
Virginia's election was one of only two gubernatorial races nationwide, with voters in New Jersey deciding whether Republican Gov. Chris Christie would serve a second term. In Virginia, state law limits governors to only a single four-year term in office.