NOTE: This piece was originally released for publication in November 2016.
RICHMOND, Va. — Election Night saw the presidential race play out in miniature here in Richmond, as an outsider candidate with deep pockets beat the polls to clobber his odds-on favorite opponent in a stunning victory.
While mayor-elect Levar Stoney cried tears of joy upon hearing he had beaten Jack Berry to win the 6th District, televisions in the background at his watch party were showing president-elect Donald Trump surge toward an upset that shocked the nation.
Stoney won the election with five out of six districts, after polling in third for months despite record-breaking fundraising efforts. His fellow Democrat Joe Morrissey, who once polled way ahead of the pack due to name recognition, was hobbled by sex scandals in the final days of his campaign. Morrissey remained in third for most of the night, and eventually conceded, saying, “I was pleased to run with some really tough candidates.”
After this, many expected the race to go into a December one-on-one run-off election versus Berry. But good results for Stoney continued to flood in as press, campaigners and well-wishers waited at downtown restaurant Wong Gonzales. Communications director Matt Corridoni paced around, his cell phone glued to his ear, waiting for information from the office of the registrar.
“We are very optimistic about tonight,” Corridoni said. “We had a great response on the ground today, a lot of undecideds breaking in Levar’s direction.”
In the background, presidential results trickled in: Trump took Florida, then North Carolina, then Pennsylvania. The crowd of Democrats at the bar began to shift and whisper, confused. Nearly every poll for months had shown Clinton consistently ahead.
Over at Morrissey’s watch party, Morrissey and his wife Myrna sat looking stunned as he continued to lag behind.
Stoney and Trump don’t have much else in common, but they each won big when both Richmond and the rest of America went to the polls and rejected the same-old. Stoney came into the race with almost no name recognition in Richmond, against a pack leader and runner-up who had both been staples of the city for decades.
Stoney’s win was officially certified Wednesday night, when the final absentee ballots were tallied in full.
“We ran a professional, people-driven campaign,” Stoney said Tuesday as he addressed the joyous crowd. “We spoke to the concerns of people everywhere. We put together a broad base coalition that looks like the city of Richmond.”
Charles Moore, a Stoney supporter who used to head up data collection at the U.S. Census Bureau, said that the polls had misjudged his level of support.
“I always told Levar that his numbers were much better than the polls said,” said Moore. “Because most millennial voters were excluded from the polls. I felt his message, his energy, the purity of the person, it would all show well in the end. And I believe that’s what has happened this evening.”
Political analyst Dr. Stephen Farnsworth thinks this election should push pollsters to redefine their methods of determining likely voters, and that Trump and Stoney won for similar reasons.
“It’s always better to be the candidate of change rather than the candidate of status quo,” he said. “And Clinton and Morrissey both qualify as baggage choices. High volume baggage choices.”