Republican Mark Obenshain has an uphill battle in the recall count for the Virginia attorney general race after the state board of elections on Monday officially certified Democrat Mark Herring the winner by 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, but history shows that it is not an impossible task.
Although Obenshain certainly has a right to seek a recount, several state and national Democrats have suggested the Republican hopeful is on a fool's errand. More often than not, they argue, recounts add even more votes to the margin of the winner in the initial count.
An often-cited case-in-point is the race for the same office in 2005, when Republican Bob McDonnell edged Democrat Creigh Deeds by 323 votes. With about 7,500 ballots run back through tabulation machines a second time, 37 votes were added to the winning margin of McDonnell, now governor of Virginia.
But the attorney general's race that is about to be recounted is different from that of eight years ago. According to the VPAP newsletter on Virginia politics, an estimated 712,000 ballots are to be run back through a tabulation machine, or 100 times more ballots recounted in this race than in the one in 2005.
The history of statewide recounts does favor the top vote-getter in the initial count over the runner-up. However, that history is by no means absolute. In fact, in some recounts for major offices over the past half-century reversed the outcome of the race.
In 1962, liberal Republican Gov. Elmer Andersen of Minnesota held a lead of 142 votes over his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Karl Rolvaag. During the first phase of a recount at county courthouses throughout Minnesota, 97,000 ballots were challenged and his lead was reduced to below 4,000.
In February, a three-judge panel appointed by state Chief Justice Oscar Knutson took over the recount. Soon, Anderson's lead vanished and Rolvaag held a lead of 91votes. Rolvaag's 91-vote lead was confirmed by the three-judge panel.
"My crestfallen campaign team wanted me to appeal the ruling to the state supreme court," Andersen later recalled. "The ultimate decision was mine. For me, it could turn on only one thing: my judgment of what was best for Minnesota. The state endured four-and-a-half months of uncertainty in state government. I could not ask Minnesotans to wait any longer for the final results." The Republican conceded and Rolvaag was sworn in as governor.
In 1974, Republican Rep. Louis Wyman won the race for U.S. senator from New Hampshire by 355 votes. But Democrat John Durkin demanded a recount and, when it was over, the recount gave him a lead of ten votes.
Wyman demanded a recount of his own and, after tabulating the disputed ballots, the State Ballot Commission ruled that Wyman had won by two votes. Gov. Meldrim Thomson, Jr. canceled Durkin's certificate of election and gave a fresh certificate to Wyman.
A desperate Durkin took his case to the U.S. Senate itself, which referred the disputed election to its Rules Committee. The committee, in turn, created a special panel to scrutinize the 3,500 disputed ballots in New Hampshire. Unable to decide between Durkin and Wyman, the Senate finally declared the New Hampshire seat vacant and a special election was called. This time, Durkin won by more than
More recently are the recounts in elections for governor of Washington State in 2004 and U.S. senator from Minnesota in 2008.
In Washington State, Republican State Sen. Dino Rossi was declared the winner in the initial count by 261 votes and again in the subsequent automated recount by 42 votes. Fueled by cash left over from the losing presidential campaign of fellow Democrat John Kerry, state Attorney General Christine Gregoire pursued a second recount done by hand. Missing votes from King County (Seattle) suddenly turned up for the first time and Gregoire was declared the winner by 129 votes.
Minnesota's Senate race in 2008 was a prolonged saga of counting, recounting, and legal contests. Republican Sen. Norm Coleman led in the initial count, but triggered an automatic recount, in which ballots that had been challenged were reviewed by the State Canvassing Board and 953 absentee ballots were ruled wrongly rejected.
The Board certified Democrat Al Franken the winner by 225 votes. Over a three-month period, Coleman challenged the results in court. But a three-judge panel dismissed his claim and the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejected his appeal. In July 2009, more than seven months after the election, Franken was finally sworn in as the Gopher State's new senator.
Obenshain, who led by nearly 1,000 votes on the day after the election, certainly has a chance at overturning the outcome in the closest Virginia statewide election in history.
Those who dismiss him as a sore loser might look at the cases of Rolvaag, Durkin, Gregoire and Franken, who all lost in the first count yet eventually were declared winners. And they were all Democrats.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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