FALLS CHURCH — Virginia voters re-elected Democrat Tim Kaine on Tuesday by a wide margin, sending the former vice presidential hopeful back to the U.S. Senate for a second term.

With roughly 98 percent of the votes counted, unofficial results showed Kaine leading Republican Corey Stewart almost 56 percent to 42 percent. Libertarian Matt Waters had 1.8 percent.

Kaine cruised to big margins in the state’s populous regions, winning key counties and cities in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads that Stewart couldn’t match in the rural areas.

At Kaine’s watch party in a hotel ballroom in Falls Church, the high fives started early as CNN projected Kaine the winner just minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m.

In his victory speech, Kaine said Virginia voters had sent a message of “good over evil, light over darkness, understanding over ignorance.”

“Tonight, Virginia showed who we are. And who we aren’t,” Kaine said.

Stewart — a 50-year-old trade attorney who serves as chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors — addressed his supporters at a restaurant in his home county.

“It was a headwind, a bit too much for us,” said Stewart, who chaired President Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign two years ago.

Stewart said the midterm election was an expected setback, but Trump is still in the White House.

“2016 was just the beginning,” Stewart said. “Let’s look forward as we re-elect President Trump in 2020.”

The Kaine campaign said Stewart called to concede around 8:40 p.m.

At Kaine’s event, other Democratic leaders called the early result a sign of their party’s ongoing momentum in Virginia after sweeping statewide races last year.

“While the story is still out around the rest of the country, we in Virginia did our job,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

Kaine praised the U.S. House candidates he appeared with throughout the midterm campaign. He applauded State Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, for defeating Republican Barbara Comstock in Northern Virginia pointing to what appeared to be “razor-thin” races for Democrats Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria.

“We’re bad at electing women to national office…,” Kaine said. “Women have got to take their place. And it will be the Democrats who make sure that women are represented in all our legislative bodies in proportion to the population.”

A former Virginia governor and Richmond mayor who began his career as a fair housing attorney, Kaine, 60, gained a national profile in 2016 when Hillary Clinton chose him to be her running mate. After Clinton’s loss to President Donald Trump, Kaine resumed his place in the Senate. Kaine has said he intends to remain there as the 2020 presidential contest takes shape.

Polls showed Kaine with a comfortable lead throughout the race, and there were signs early in the day that the race wasn’t exactly going to be a dogfight.

After voting and visiting polling places in Richmond in the morning, Kaine was spotted at the Carytown Kroger buying a loaf of bread and a bag of chips. A campaign spokesman said the senator was buying supplies to make lunch for his parents.

Stewart’s defeat marks the sixth statewide loss in a row for Virginia Republicans, who will have to defend their slim majorities in the General Assembly next year as Democrats look to flip the statehouse. Tuesday’s double-digit result was the worst for a Republican running statewide since the 2008 Senate race, when former Gov. Jim Gilmore lost to Warner by 31 percentage points.

Republican Bob McDonnell beat Democrat Creigh Deeds by 17 percentage points in the 2009 contest for governor.

Kaine emphasized jobs, health care, education and “a Virginia that works for all,” while painting Stewart as a divisive candidate with a history of inflammatory remarks and troubling associations with far-right figures.

Stewart, who pledged to run a “vicious” campaign against Kaine, ran on hard-line opposition to illegal immigration and support for the Trump agenda. He characterized Kaine as an ineffective incumbent and an apologist for left-wing radicalism, repeatedly invoking the arrest of one of Kaine’s sons at an anti-Trump protest to try to connect Kaine to antifa.

Stewart’s tactics created a rift in his own party, with some Republicans, including McDonnell, declaring they couldn’t support Stewart’s style of politics.

“I don’t regret a thing because what we did, we gave it a good fight and we have a great president of the United States,” Stewart said.

Don Scott, a school bus driver who said he used to drive Stewart’s kids to school, said he was disappointed but not surprised.

“He really had no chance,” Scott said. “It was an uphill battle… but you fight ‘til the end no matter what.”

The 2018 campaign was Stewart’s third try for statewide office after failing to win the GOP nominations for governor in 2017 and lieutenant governor in 2013. Next year, he’ll face a primary challenger for his Prince William board seat.

Kaine had raised more than $20 million by mid-October, dwarfing Stewart’s $2.4 million.

Kaine’s seat will be up for election again in 2024.

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gmoomaw@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6839

Twitter: @gmoomaw

Staff writer Bridget Balch contributed to this report.

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