Republicans swept all three statewide offices in Virginia Tuesday night, ending an eight-year Democratic reign in Richmond. Glenn Youngkin, a former investment manager from Fairfax County, defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a contest that was deadlocked in most polls, and that is viewed by many as a bellwether for the 2022 congressional midterms. GOP candidates also won back the majority in the House of Delegates.
In the lieutenant governor’s contest, Winsome Sears, a former state delegate, made history by becoming the first Black woman to serve in Virginia’s second highest office. Sears beat Hala Ayala, who was vying to become the first Afro-Latina in statewide office.
And in the attorney general’s race, Jason Miyares defeated incumbent Mark Herring. A Republican of Cuban ancestry, he is only the second candidate to unseat a sitting Virginia attorney general since Rufus Ayers won against Francis Blair in 1885.
“My fellow Virginians, we stand here this morning at this defining moment that started with two people on a walk, and a defining moment that is now millions of Virginians walking together, sharing dreams and hopes, for a Virginia that soars, that never settles, where the Virginia promise comes alive for everyone that calls this Virginia home,” Youngkin said when he took the stage at his victory party in Chantilly shortly after 1 a.m.
“Together, we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth, and friends, we are going to start that transformation on day one,” Youngkin said. “There is no time to waste, our kids can’t wait. We work in real people’s time, not government time.”
Youngkin, 54, is the first Republican to be elected governor since Bob McDonnell defeated Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee, in 2009. He edged McAuliffe, 64, by a narrow 51% to 48% lead. The Democrat did not concede on election night, but he released a statement Wednesday morning, acknowledging his defeat. “While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in,” McAuliffe said, before congratulating Youngkin: “I hope Virginians will join me in wishing the best to him and his family.”
Republicans flipped seven seats in the House of Delegates, winning back the majority with 52-48. In House District 12, Jason Pollard unseated incumbent Del. Chris Hurst, a Democrat from Montgomery County. In HD 28, Tara Durant defeated Del. Joshua Cole, D-Stafford County, and in HD 75, Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Greensville County, lost to challenger Otto Wachsman. Del. Nancy Guy, D-Virginia Beach, was unseated by challenger Tim Anderson in HD 83; in HD 91, A.C. Cordoza defeated Del. Martha Mugler, D-Hampton. In the early in the morning, Republican Kim Taylor pulled ahead of Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, in HD 63, and a few hours later, Karen Greenhalgh unseated Del. Alex Askew, a Democrat from Virginia Beach.
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, the House Minority Leader, said in a news release that Virginia voters made “an historic statement, delivering a clear rebuke of the failed policies of the last two years” and electing Republicans up and down the ballot.
“We are grateful to Virginians who place their trust in us, and we look forward to immediately going to work with Gov.-elect Youngkin and his administration to restore fiscal order, give parents the voice they deserve in education, and keep our commonwealth safe. Our work begins now,” Gilbert said.
Beginning next year, Democrats will be left with just a slim 21-19 majority in the state Senate, where no seats were up for reelection this year. However, the power balance in the legislature could get shuffled again if Virginia will hold another House of Delegates election based on the new maps to be drawn in the coming months by the Virginia Supreme Court using the 2020 census data.
A political outsider, Youngkin entered Virginia’s gubernatorial contest with a blank slate. The Richmond native, who resides on a horse farm on the northern tip of Fairfax County with his wife, Suzanne, resigned from his post as the CEO of the private-equity firm The Carlyle Group last fall, and he announced his bid to lead the Republican ticket in January.
Within five months, he had beaten out his six contenders and locked up the nomination at the Virginia GOP convention that was held in May in an unassembled format, with ballots cast remotely at up to 37 locations statewide, using ranked-choice voting.
Youngin ran what many observers consider a nearly flawless political campaign built on a platform of issues dear to most Republicans, including across-the-board tax cuts and rebates to funding education, cutting regulations, investing in schools and teacher salaries, increased funding of law enforcement and economic development, plus social issues such as banning critical race theory, a curriculum unpopular on the political Right that acknowledges that racism is institutionalized and is embedded in America’s history.
While McAuliffe was rarely seen campaigning in the deeply Republican rural areas of Southwest and Southside Virginia, Youngkin wasn’t afraid to hold rallies in competitive and even blue regions all across Central and Northern Virginia.
From the beginning, McAuliffe, who won his party’s nomination in June, tried to tie his opponent to former President Donald Trump, who formally endorsed Youngkin in July. But the Republican nominee managed to walk a fine line between pleasing Trump voters and recruiting moderate independents to join his side by touting his Day One policies of what he would do on his first day in office. Most of Youngkin’s stump speeches were light in policy detail, but full of across-the-middle talking points, biographical tidbits aimed at endearing himself to voters, and sometimes culture war issues, depending on where his campaign took him.
Then McAuliffe handed Youngkin a campaign ad on a silver platter at the second gubernatorial debate in September by stating that he would not allow parents to tell schools what to teach their children. “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Youngkin’s campaign seized on McAuliffe’s statement, redefining the narrative of the election by making it about education and parental control over their children’s curriculum instead of Trumpism.
“The big question in this election was whether Virginians feared the specter of Donald Trump more than the specter of critical race theory,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. Youngkin had vowed to ban critical race theory, which is not being taught at Virginia schools, on his first day in office. “Based on results so far it looks like voters feared the idea of critical race theory more than Trump,” Farnsworth said.
And last week, the Republican campaign rolled out a TV ad highlighting McAuliffe’s ties with Dominion Energy, which had donated more than $200,000 to the peculiar Accountability Virginia PAC in Washington. The PAC is aligned with Democrats but has launched an ad campaign in Southwest and Southside Virginia, attacking Youngkin from the right on gun issues, making it look like conservatives aren’t supporting the Republican nominee.
(Dominion Energy is a major donor of Cardinal News; under our rules, donations have no influence on our news coverage.)
Less than a week before the election, a Christopher Newport University poll had McAuliffe and Youngkin essentially deadlocked with 46% to 45%. But the same poll showed another number that has now proven to be even more important for Youngkin: Republicans were significantly more enthusiastic about the election, edging Democrats by 80% to 65%. And the enthusiasm also sparked record early voting numbers – by the time the polls opened Tuesday morning, more than 1.1 million Virginians had already cast their ballots in the state’s early voting period that began on Sept. 17 and ended on Saturday. The total number of votes exceeded 3 million, which is 400,000 more than in the 2017 gubernatorial election.
In the campaigns’ last finance disclosures before the election, which covered contributions and spending between Oct. 1 and Oct. 21, McAuliffe raised $12.9 million and Youngkin’s $15.4 million during this period. Despite Youngkin’s late fundraising edge, the two candidates have raised nearly the same amount of money throughout the campaign, although the Republican contributed much of his personal wealth to his campaign.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said it was inevitable that the winning streak of Virginia Democrats would eventually come to an end. “Unless you are completely one-party, such as California for the Democrats or the Dakotas for the Republicans, there will be a turnover eventually,” Sabato said, adding that Youngkin used “red-meat social and cultural issues” to generate a high GOP turnout. Republicans had lost so many times in a row that they were willing to take “a wink and a nod” from Youngkin on Trump, abortion, and a fair number of other topics, Sabato said. “Normally, they would insist on explicit purity.”
And being so wealthy, Youngkin was able to match McAuliffe dollar for dollar. “Democratic turnout was down, due in part to the unpopularity of President Biden and the clumsy attempts among congressional Democrats to deliver on party promises,” Sabato said.