Republican Glenn Youngkin is on track to be Virginia’s next governor as he sustains his lead over former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe Tuesday night, putting him on the cusp of being the first Republican to win statewide in over a decade.
Youngkin led by over four points with almost 90% of the vote counted, according to the New York Times election tracker, buoyed by record turnout in rural areas and an energized Republican base. He trailed McAuliffe in nearly every poll up until the final days of the race, when late momentum gave him the slimmest of leads in a state that President Joe Biden won by over 10 points just a year ago.
In addition to Youngkin, Republican Winsome Sears is set to win Virginia’s lieutenant governor race and Republican Jason Miyares leads in the race to be the state’s next attorney general. Republicans are also on pace to flip the Virginia State House, which Democrats have held since early 2020.
“Congratulations to Republicans Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears, and Jason Miyares on their incredible campaigns and hard fought victories,” the Republican Governors’ Association said in a statement, declaring victory though the race has not yet been officially called. “This Republican sweep in Virginia is a resounding rebuke of the failed policies of Joe Biden and the Democrats.”
While Virginia’s economic recovery and the coronavirus vaccine were the dominating issues for much of the race, education became central as the contest became more nationalized and McAuliffe’s lead began to erode.
“Folks, not everything is counted and we’re still waiting for a lot of votes to come in,” McAuliffe said in a statement Tuesday night thanking his supporters. “And we want to ensure every Virginians’ voice is heard.”
The issue leapt to the forefront of both campaigns after McAuliffe said that he did not “think that parents should be telling schools what they should teach” during a September debate, referring to two bills he vetoed while governor that would have allowed parents to prevent their kids from engaging with material that they deemed explicit or sexual. Youngkin repeatedly brought up McAuliffe’s remark in the following weeks, even airing ads that accused him of siding against parents when it came to their kids’ educations.
McAuliffe in response accused Youngkin of promoting a “racist dog whistle,” and repeatedly tried to tie him to former President Donald Trump, who twice lost the state and remains deeply unpopular in it. He also campaigned alongside Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama and other high-profile Democrats in a bid to energize his base.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) and transgender rights also moved front-and-center in the race’s final weeks, with increasingly frustrated parents voicing their concerns in front of school boards in some of Virginia’s most populous counties. In Loudoun County, which extends west from Washington, D.C.’s outer suburbs, the school board covered up the alleged sexual assault of a girl by her transgender classmate for months, ultimately leading to the board’s head resigning in October.
Youngkin also pledged to ban the teaching of CRT in Virginia schools on his first day in office.
In addition to Youngkin’s late momentum, concerns over rising inflation, crime and the pandemic have risen nationwide, lowering Democrats’ overall approval given their control of the White House and Congress. They have also struggled to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Biden’s $1.75 trillion spending package, which together compromise the bulk of his domestic agenda, though they aim to vote on both this week and are hoping to compromise on key provisions.
In New Jersey, the only other state to hold a gubernatorial election this year, incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy trails Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli by about 2 points with 50% of the vote reported.