Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial election Tuesday night, striking a political tsunami across America ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Youngkin called his victory speech to a cheering crowd shortly after 1 a.m. a “defining moment” and promised to “change the trajectory of this commonwealth.”
“On day one, we’re going to work,” Youngkin vowed. “We’re going to restore excellence in our schools … We’re going to embrace our parents, not ignore them.”
As Youngkin spoke, President Biden was descending the stairs of Air Force One, having returned to the United States from Europe and finding himself in a very different political reality.
Youngkin had 51% of the vote with 97% of the expected vote in, compared to 48.3% for McAuliffe, a margin of more than 85,000 votes out of more than 3.1 million votes.
Republicans also held a small edge in the contests for Virginia’s other two statewide offices. If she defeats Democratic House of Delegates member Hala Ayala, businesswoman and former Virginia House of Delegates member Winsome Sears will be the first black woman to win statewide office in Virginia.
“I am at a loss for words for the first time in my life,” Sears, a former Marine, told the rapturous crowd shortly before Youngkin spoke.
In the race for Virginia attorney general, Republican Jason Miyares, a descendent of Cuban exiles, led Democrat Mark Herring, who was seeking re-election for the third time. Miyares would be Virginia’s first Hispanic statewide elected official.
“The red wave is here!” exclaimed the Republican National Committee.
“This Republican sweep in Virginia is a resounding rebuke of the failed policies of Joe Biden and the Democrats,” the RNC said “Virginians – and Americans across the country – are fed up with Biden’s divisive policies, failed leadership, and a Democrat agenda hurting working families. A Republican wave is coming in 2022, and Virginia is just the start.”
Youngkin, who was running against a former governor in a state that President Biden won by ten percentage points last year, concentrated his campaign on reuniting suburbanites alienated by former President Donald Trump.
He accomplished this by keeping Trump at arm’s length throughout the campaign and hammering McAuliffe on local issues such as the economy and education, advocating for increased parental involvement in schools, and promising to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 classrooms.
As a result, Youngkin won by big margins in traditionally Republican areas of the state’s south and west, and he did well enough in Northern Virginia’s Democratic-leaning DC suburbs to pull off a victory that seemed unlikely even two months ago when one poll of likely voters showed him trailing McAuliffe by 9 percentage points.
“I would like to thank my BASE for coming out in force and voting for Glenn Youngkin,” Trump said in an emailed statement. “Without you, he would not have been close to winning. The MAGA movement is bigger and stronger than ever before. Glenn will be a great governor. Thank you to the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia and most particularly, to our incredible MAGA voters!”
During a debate on Sept. 28, McAuliffe may have unintentionally given Youngkin a foothold in the race when the topic moved to parental concerns about racially charged or sexually explicit school curriculum materials.
“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” the Democrat said, accusing Youngkin of seeking to “suppress and silence” parents for schools to pursue a “radical political agenda” in the classrooms.
Youngkin was able to press the matter at two other events in early October. First, on October 4, Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the FBI would take the lead investigation into what he called a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
Days later, news broke that the public school district in wealthy Loudoun County had covered up a sexual assault on a female high school student earlier this year. The girl’s father was imprisoned when he attempted to confront school board officials about the alleged attack, an occurrence that the National School Boards Association identified as potential domestic terrorism in a letter to Garland days before the Oct. 4 announcement.
“Terry McAuliffe has demonstrated that he cares more about his own career than he does for Virginians,” Youngkin told Fox News in an interview last week. “He wants to put government between parents and their children. If he doesn’t like the answer, then all of a sudden, the FBI comes in and tries to silence them.”
That message was effective in places like Loudoun County, where McAuliffe led Youngkin by 10 percentage points with the majority of votes counted. In the most recent gubernatorial race, Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie by 20 percentage points.
Despite getting the most coverage in the final weeks of the campaign, the Associated Press VoteCast survey found that more than a third of voters (34%) rated the economy as the most important issue. COVID-19 was ranked as the most important issue by around 17%, while education was ranked as the second most important issue by 14%.
Voters who regarded the economy and education as the most important topics, on the other hand, were more likely to support Youngkin, who campaigned on a promise to reduce taxes and regulations.
“My fellow Virginians, this is our moment,” Youngkin said early Wednesday. “It’s our moment for parents, for grandparents, for aunts, for uncles, for neighbors to change the future of Virginia’s children’s lives.
“To change their Virginia journey. It’s our time to turn that vision into a reality. It’s a vision where Virginians’ power, the power that has historically resided in the marbled halls in Richmond, is spread out.”
Both candidates stated that the election’s consequences would be felt well beyond Virginia.
McAuliffe insisted at one of his final campaign events that “the stakes are huge.” According to Youngkin, the election will send a “statement that will be heard across this country.”
At a McAuliffe rally last week, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered an even more explicit warning, telling supporters that “what happens in Virginia will in large part determine what happens in 2022, 2024, and on.”
Democrats will be hoping she was wrong after the outcome on Tuesday night.
New York Post’s Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report