It's Not An Election Without Cliffhangers

Four days after the election, U.S. House races in Virginia, Ohio and California are still too close to call.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News in Washington, this is All Things Considered. I'm Jacki Lyden. Four days after the election, and it's still not over. Sure, Barack Obama is ordering the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He gave his first radio address as president-elect today, and there's no doubt about Democratic dominance on Capitol Hill. But it just wouldn't be an election any longer without at least a few cliffhangers. Three U.S. Senate seats are still up in the air - Alaska, Minnesota and Georgia - and at least four in the House, ranging from coast to coast.

We're going to zoom in on the unfinished business in three of those races, starting in Virginia, the 5th District, where incumbent Republican Virgil Goode has been neck and neck with Democrat Tom Perriello. Sarah Arkin has been covering this race for the Danville Register & Bee. And thanks for joining us, Sarah.

Ms. SARAH ARKIN (Staff Writer, Danville Register & Bee): Hi, thank you.

LYDEN: Before we get to the district in question, describe where it is a little bit, would you, please?

Ms. ARKIN: The 5th District of Virginia is the southern part of Virginia. It's the largest district. It includes Charlottesville, which is very Democratic-leaning, as well as a large conservative base in the southern part of the district. It's right on the North Carolina border.

LYDEN: So, what's the latest count there?

Ms. ARKIN: The latest count has Tom Perriello ahead by 745 votes as of Friday evening.

LYDEN: Obviously, votes are still being counted, provisional ballots and so on, but I understand that Tom Perriello declared victory yesterday anyway. What was that about?

Ms. ARKIN: Yes, at his Martinsville headquarters, he declared victory and said that there were just 10 provisional ballots left to be counted, which would not, obviously, compensate for the 745 votes he is ahead. However, under Virginia law, if the difference between the winner and the loser is less than 1 percent of the vote, the presumptive loser can request a recount.

LYDEN: And when might that occur?

Ms. ARKIN: If that goes to the process, we will likely not know the winner until December.

LYDEN: Well, Sarah Arkin of the Danville Register & Bee, thanks very much for taking the time to explain what's going on.

Ms. ARKIN: Thank you.

LYDEN: Next, we turn to Ohio's 15th District, and that seat has been held by Republican Deborah Pryce since 1992, but she's retiring. Now, it's between Republican Steve Stivers and Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy. James Nash is covering this contest for the Columbus Dispatch. Thanks for joining us, James Nash.

Mr. JAMES NASH (Reporter, Columbus Dispatch): Thanks for having me.

LYDEN: And would you outline the borders of the 15th District?

Mr. NASH: Sure. The 15th Congressional District includes about half of the city of Columbus, many of its western suburbs and two very rural farming counties, Union and Madison County, both of which are dwarfed by the Columbus area in population, but they're the most reliably Republican parts of the district. When you balance it all out, it ends up splitting about 50-50.

LYDEN: Now, we checked the results earlier today, and the Republican Steve Stivers was ahead by fewer than 200 votes.

Mr. NASH: Provisional ballots and absentee ballots have not been counted in this race. Mary Jo Kilroy suggested that once the ballots are counted, she will end up ahead.

LYDEN: Is it cynical to say that Ohio voters are getting accustomed to these sorts of nail-biters?

Mr. NASH: Well, it is a very split state. This district is basically a microcosm of Ohio. You have part of the biggest city in Ohio in the district. You also have a lot of growing suburbs, and you have two very rural farming counties. So if Ohio is a microcosm of the nation, the 15th district is the microcosm of Ohio. In fact, in the 15th Congressional District, Mary Jo Kilroy came within one-half percent of knocking off Deborah Pryce, the incumbent you mentioned earlier, in 2006. That one was decided by a recount. This one, in all likelihood, will also go to a recount.

LYDEN: Any prediction about how many more weeks it'll be before someone's name is announced?

Mr. NASH: Well, since I've been through this before, I anticipate it'll be exactly the same process that we went through two years ago, where there was a mandatory recount. In that case, it was a half-percent difference.

There are probably more provisional ballots to be counted this year than there were two years ago because of the Obama effect, a lot of first-time voters. So, it is possible that once those votes are counted up, Mary Jo Kilroy would come out ahead by a large enough margin that there wouldn't be a recount. But I think most folks are expecting a recount this time, so that pushes us into December.

LYDEN: OK, James Nash of the Columbus Dispatch, thank you very much.

Mr. NASH: Thank you.

LYDEN: And now, across the country to California's 4th District, where Republican Tom McClintock and Democrat Charlie Brown are battling for another open seat. John Wildermuth has been following this race for the San Francisco Chronicle. Hello there, John.

Mr. JOHN WILDERMUTH (Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle): Hi, thanks for having me.

LYDEN: This district is in the northeast corner of California, correct?

Mr. WILDERMUTH: Yes, the 4th District of California extends from the suburbs of Sacramento east to Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border and then north all the way up to Oregon. The district is pretty rural, pretty conservative, and has a lot more trees than it has people.

LYDEN: So, the race at the moment between the Democrat and Republican, how close is it?

Mr. WILDERMUTH: Oh, as of last night, Tom McClintock has about a 900-vote edge in the race. There's probably about 50,000 votes still uncounted, so it's going to be a couple of days before we have a final number.

LYDEN: John McCain outpolled Barack Obama, yet McClintock, the Republican, and Brown, the Democrat, are neck and neck. What's happening? Are people splitting their ticket?

Mr. WILDERMUTH: The thing to remember is this is a hugely Republican district. It's been Republican for decades, and the registration edge is about 15 points to the Republicans. You have a guy who's been running for the last four years, Charlie Brown, and now, he's running against a Republican, who is actually in the state senate representing a district 400 miles south of the 4th Congressional. So, the carpetbagger charges have made a difference.

LYDEN: So, the Republican is actually, I understand, from near Los Angeles?

Mr. WILDERMUTH: He's in the - from the community of Thousand Oaks, but he's been in the state capital for about 15, 20 years and actually lives right outside Sacramento most of the year. But his official residence is in his district.

LYDEN: So, when might this one be wrapped up?

Mr. WILDERMUTH: It's probably going to be at least a week. California doesn't have any mandatory recount law, so when all the votes are counted, if somebody wants a recount, they can have one, but they've got to pay for it, and it's an expensive process.

LYDEN: John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle, thank you very much.

Mr. WILDERMUTH: A pleasure being on.

LYDEN: There won't be any recounts in Oklahoma. That state gave John McCain his biggest win anywhere. Senator McCain won Oklahoma by a two-to-one margin, even though the state has more registered Democrats than Republicans. No Democrat has taken Oklahoma since Lyndon Johnson 44 years ago. This is the state where Republican Jim Inhofe started his Senate career by winning with a God, guns, and gay strategy. He was re-elected Tuesday. Oklahoma was really an outlier this year, though. In a few minutes, we'll take a look at President-elect Obama's unexpected strength in much of rural America, and how he rewrote the script in North Carolina.

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