Youngkin’s victory takes Virginia Republicans back to Executive Mansion
Republican Glenn Youngkin has defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the race for governor in Virginia, according to a call from the Associated Press. Republicans are on track to sweep the statewide ticket, with Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) ahead in the race for attorney general and Winsome Sears leading the race to become the first woman of color to be elected lieutenant governor. Republicans also appear to have taken control of the House of Delegates with a 51-49 majority.
The victory ends a long losing streak for Virginia Republicans, who haven’t notched a statewide election win since 2009. However, it follows the trend of Virginians in odd-year elections voting against the party in the White House.
The win for the GOP could also be a sign of what is to come in the 2022 midterm elections when the balance of power in Congress is up for grabs – and 36 states hold gubernatorial elections.
Youngkin’s victory could be a template for other Republicans. The former private equity CEO and first-time candidate drew raucous crowds in the closing stages of the race by channeling conservative outrage over public education. Many supporters said they were enthusiastic about his defense of parents concerned about the way race is taught in school, as well as new protections for transgender students passed by the Virginia legislature.
Turnout for the race appears to have been higher than the most recent Virginia race for governor in 2017.
In the last weeks of the campaign, the race was neck-and-neck between the two candidates who crisscrossed the state pleading with voters to cast a ballot in this off-year election that generally yields much lower turnout than presidential election years. Princess Blanding, an outspoken advocate of criminal justice reform, was a third-party candidate on the ballot.
Youngkin will face immediate challenges in making good on his campaign promises. Democrats still hold a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, meaning Youngkin will have to peel away votes to get his agenda passed. He has an ambitious plan for his first day in office: banning the teaching of “critical race theory” (not a part of Virginia’s K-12 state curriculum), firing Virginia’s parole board, eliminating a slew of taxes and increasing teacher pay. Most of the proposals, though, will require approval from the legislature.
Youngkin’s win restores some power Republicans lost in a state that has turned increasingly blue. During former President Donald Trump’s time in office, Republicans lost control of the state legislature and three congressional seats. Democrats still hold both of the U.S. Senate seats and the majority of the state’s congressional delegation.
Youngkin drew large crowds across Virginia who cheered loudest for his calls to ban “critical race theory” while he evoked a dire picture of classrooms where students are classified by race, seeming to reference equity programs launched by some school districts to address long-standing systemic racism in education.
“To teach our children to divide everyone through a lens of race, and call one group ‘oppressors’ and one group ‘victims’ and pit them against one another is not right,” Youngkin said to cheers at a rally on Monday. “We know it’s not right.”
Youngkin made reopening schools an early part of his platform when he emerged from relative obscurity to announce his candidacy in January of this year. At the time, the former CEO of the Carlyle Group wasn’t widely known beyond a small handful of party insiders. He’d spent 25 years working his way up through the large private equity firm after his brief time playing college basketball at Rice University.
Youngkin’s lack of record and ample personal wealth proved helpful on the campaign trail. He spent $20 million of his own money on his campaign. His main issue during a contentious GOP nominating fight was “election integrity,” and early on Youngkin refused to say whether Biden’s election was legitimate. Later, he clarified he believed the 2020 election was fair but continued to campaign alongside election deniers like state Sen. Amanda Chase.
McAuliffe tried to paint Youngkin as an extremist who is using “racist dog whistles” to rally voters in a mode he says evokes former President Trump, who has repeatedly endorsed Youngkin.
But the connection between the affable, fleece-vest-wearing Youngkin and Trump appeared not to persuade enough voters. That may have been, in part, because he publicly tried to keep his distance from the former president. Youngkin didn’t attend a Monday night “tele-rally” Trump held for him and skipped a so-called “Take Back Virginia” rally last month in suburban Richmond where the crowd pledged allegiance to a flag that organizers said was carried at the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
When Trump called in, he slammed McAuliffe, repeated false allegations of election fraud, and praised Youngkin, who later called the pledge to the rioters’ flag, "weird and wrong."
Rich Meagher, an associate professor of political science at Randolph-Macon College, said national Republicans would likely use Youngkin’s campaign as a template in next year’s elections given the enthusiasm it generated. Democrats, he said, needed to re-evaluate their strategy of painting all Republicans with a “Trump brush” and talk more about their policies and achievements.
“It was kind of like they had plan A and they never went to plan B,“ Meagher said. “It might be good to remind people of sort of the underbelly of Republican politics, but at some point, you’ve got to talk about what you do and what your message is and what you offer.”
This is a developing story.