NEWS- Dramatic conclusion: Lunsford sweats, kneels way to victory
As supporters and early precinct results trickled into the Albemarle Democrats' election night party at the Aberdeen Barn restaurant, Denise Lunsford and volunteers from her campaign tried to keep the mood light. They slapped each other on the back, congratulated themselves on a hard day's work in Lunsford's drive to become Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney, noshed on cucumber hors d'oeuvres and chicken wings, and sipped martinis and bottles of Starr Hill beer. To celebrate the occasion, they even donned silver-spangled bow ties, perhaps a subtle dig at Republican incumbent Jim Camblos' choice in neckwear.
"We wouldn't stoop to that," said attorney and former Lunsford colleague Peter McIntosh with a grin. Then he added, "But yes, humor does get you through the tough times."
The next two hours were tough for the challenger and her supporters, but not for the reasons many election watchers had forecast. The assembled were on edge because the numbers were actually going their way.
"We got Monticello!" shouted campaign manager Erin Garvey at around 7:45pm, "251 to 233!"
"This is worse than all the ER traumas all year!" said one anxious Martha Jefferson Hospital nurse.
Could the pantsuit-wearing, multi-earringed, unmarried mother of three really be gaining on the bow-tie-wearing, 16-year, thrice-re-elected, Republican Commonwealth's Attorney? The back of a roadside campaign sign became a makeshift scoreboard as volunteers tallied the totals in black Sharpie for all to see. Just after 8pm, someone got located a radio and tuned into WINA's election-eve results wrap-up, and every five minutes came the clamor for quiet.
"In the Commonwealth's Attorney's race from the Northside precinct– Denise Lunsford: 357, Jim Camblos: 354."
Some yelped with approval.
"At Burnley: Denise Lunsford: 240, Jim Camblos, 239."
Many more moaned with anxiety over the tight margins. Incumbents– especially longtime incumbents– have a tendency to win elections.
The roller-coaster ride seemed to wrack Lunsford. While nursing a Jack Daniels and ginger ale, she applauded each precinct that went her way, but she didn't seem able to stop pacing the floor, biting her nails, and wiping her brow as the numbers added up.
"In Free Bridge– Denise Lunsford: 612, Jim Camblos: 510."
That one made her go down on one knee.
And then, at about 9pm, after eight months campaigning and 21 hours of Election Day as the underdog, came the big one:
"At Cale– Denise Lunsford: six hundred five, six-zero-five..."
No one dared breathe.
"Jim Camblos: four hundred ni–"
With a lead of over 1,000 votes and only the Crozet precinct yet to report (which Lunsford took by a decisive 288 votes), the Lunsford victory was in sight, and WINA soon declared the race.
Her hands clutching her face seemed to be the only thing keeping Lunsford's jaw from hitting the floor. Well-wishers threw their arms around her like the pitcher who's just thrown strike three to win the World Series. The victor pumped her fist in triumph– Albemarle County had just elected Denise Lunsford its first female Commonwealth's Attorney.