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'Battle is not over' after a close Virginia governor's race

Virginia Democrats spent much of Tuesday night biting their nails with the governor’s race too close to call -- despite recent polls showing their nominee with a commanding lead.

It was nearly 11 p.m. when Terry McAuliffe took the podium to deliver his victory speech. With 99% of precincts reporting, McAuliffe had captured 47.4% of the vote. His challenger, Republican Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite, won 45.5% of the vote.

A week ago, a Washington Post poll showed McAuliffe with a 12-point lead.

Democrats had hoped the election would strike a decisive blow against the tea party, sending a message to the GOP that ideologically extreme candidates were not electable in swing states. Instead, the takeaway is murky.

Cuccinelli was outspent nearly 2 to 1. Some Republicans are sure to argue in coming days that he could have won if only he had a little more support from GOP donors.

PHOTOS: Election Day 2013

Voters were not particularly enamored with either candidate as both campaigns put most of their effort into launching attacks. McAuliffe joked in his victory speech, “I think every single person in Virginia is glad the television ads are over.”

McAuliffe, a former national Democratic Party chairman, had positioned himself as a moderate in the campaign. He focused his remarks on the need for bipartisanship and for making “Virginia a model for pragmatic leadership that is friendly to job creation.”

But both his speech and Cuccinelli’s concession, which preceded it, highlighted how divided the battleground state is likely to be for some time on major national issues.

Cuccinelli referred to Obamacare as an “out-of-control healthcare law” that he would continue to fight. “This battle is not over with this race,” he said. “It goes on and it will continue to go on.”

McAuliffe, for his part, highlighted his plan to aggressively implement the healthcare law in Virginia, with a major expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.

“It was perhaps the clearest issue voters had in this election,” he said. “We need to accept the Medicaid expansion and bring the Virginia taxpayers’ money back to Virginia.”

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evan.halper@latimes.com

Twitter: @evanhalper

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