Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former business executive and a first-time political candidate, was projected early Wednesday by The Associated Press to win the governorship of Virginia, beating Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe in a result that seemed unlikely over the summer and could have national repercussions as the midterm elections approach.
McAuliffe on Wednesday morning conceded the race:
While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in. We must protect Virginia’s great public schools and invest in our students. We must protect affordable health care coverage, raise the minimum wage faster, and expand paid leave so working families have a fighting shot. We must protect voting rights, protect a woman’s right to choose, and, above all else, we must protect our democracy. While there will be setbacks along the way, I am confident that the long term path of Virginia is toward inclusion, openness and tolerance for all.”
McAuliffe went on to congratulate Youngkin. He also thanked his family and campaign staff.
The Associated Press called the election for Youngkin at 12:39 a.m., in what looks like the preface for a Republican sweep of the three statewide offices.
“It looks like it’s going to be a historic sweep for Republicans tonight,” WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller said late Tuesday, as their candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general also have sizable leads.
Republicans hadn’t won any of these offices since 2009.
All members of the 100-seat House of Delegates are also being elected Tuesday, and several local offices in the D.C. area are also up for grabs.
Speaking shortly after 1 a.m., Youngkin thanked his wife, Suzanne, for “unbconditional love,” and said of his kids, “I’m not sure they were all on board at the beginning.” He then reiterated several of the key planks in his Day One program.
Youngkin promised the largest education budget in the history of Virginia, with raises for teachers and better facilities, along with giving parents more options for charter schools. (He got a swell of applause for promising “We’re going to embrace our parents, not ignore them,” an echo of McAuliffe’s infamous phrase “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”)
He also promised “the largest tax refund in the history of Virginia,” with facets including eliminating the grocery tax, suspending the latest gas tax, cutting taxes on veterans’ retirement and doubling the standard deduction.
“This stopped being a campaign long ago,” Youngkin said. “This is the spirit of Virginia coming together like never before — the spirit of Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Monroe and Patrick Henry. Of Virginians standing up and taking our Commonwealth back.”
For his part, McAuliffe at about 10:20 p.m. told supporters at his headquarters in McLean that “We’ve still got a lot of votes to count. … Every single Virginian deserves to have their vote counted.”
The suburbs and exurbs of Virginia have generally trended Democratic, and Youngkin isn’t likely to win areas such as Loudoun and Prince William counties, but he’s doing well enough to hold McAuliffe off, and “kind of wipe out the huge urban areas” where the Democrat is cleaning up, Miller said.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said that Youngkin did much better than expected in Loudoun and Prince William counties, where he’s at nearly 45% and 47%, respectively.
Traditionally, “it’s good to be the non-presidential-party candidate in the Virginia gubernatorial race,” Kondik said, and that’s true this year as well, as “the Democratic brand is sinking nationally.”
Youngkin, 54, spent time on the campaign trail touting his business background, while keeping Republican Party standard-bearer at arm’s length; McAuliffe sought to tie Youngkin to Trump, while touting his own record as governor from 2014 to 2018.
Kondik added that the Republican Party doesn’t seem to have been tarnished by the attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump.
“People have pretty short memories, I think,” Kondik said. “It doesn’t seem like that was a big factor in this race. … That just seems to be the reality.”
Miller said Republicans “are just more energized right now” as the 2022 midterm elections approach. “There’s no question that this is going to send shock waves across the Democratic landscape.”
CBS News political analyst Leonard Steinhorn said, “If the Democrats have any good news out of this, it’s that the midterms are a year away and they have time to recover.”
He said the strong showing has indicated that “Republicans have figured out how to campaign in the post-Donald Trump age,” saying that Youngkin “figured out he could embrace Trump quietly” with a message about election integrity (a callback to Trump’s lies about the 2020 election), while distancing himself to come off as “a regular, fleece-wearing suburban dad who was a businessman, knows how to create jobs and doesn’t seem too threatening.”
Maya King of Politico told WTOP that voters, especially Black voters, were seeing “a lack of progress on President Biden’s agenda, particularly for Black voters,” on issues such as the economy, voting rights and COVID-19. “Black voters aren’t souring on Terry McAuliffe, but they are experiencing a bit of fatigue after showing up and turning out in historic numbers in 2020, but not seeing that return on investment.”
History will be made whichever way the lieutenant governor’s race breaks, as either Democratic Del. Hala Ayala or Republican former Del. Winsome Sears would be the first woman of color elected to statewide office in Virginia.
Introducing Youngkin in the predawn hours of Wednesday, Sears said, “What you are looking at is the American dream,” flanked by her family and recalling her father’s journey from Jamaica in 1963.
“It’s a historic night, but I didn’t want to make history,” Sears said; “I just wanted to leave it better than I found it.”
The attorney general’s race pits Democratic incumbent Mark Herring against Republican Del. Jason Miyares.
Herring touted his efforts on police reform and a dip in overall crime, while Miyares repeatedly brought up an increase in the commonwealth’s homicide rate.
The House of Delegates
The House races include some close contests in the D.C. area, and Democratic control of the chamber, currently at 55-45, could be up for grabs. You can check out the results, updated live as they come in, and get more details about the races to watch.
It appeared that results would come in more quickly than they had last year, since Virginia changed the law regarding the counting of absentee and mail-in ballots.
Virginia used to group all absentee, early and mail-in ballots in a city or county together, and they were processed and counted last, in a central absentee precinct. Last year, that meant a boatload of ballots were waiting until the end of the night to be processed and counted.
The General Assembly changed the law this year, so that local registrars could start processing (not counting) these ballots at least seven days before Election Day, and start counting before the polls close.
It didn’t work out that way; multiple counties reported in-person Election Day voting first, and Fairfax County blew through their self-imposed 8 p.m. deadline for releasing the counts of mail-in ballots.
Mail-in ballots that were postmarked Tuesday can still come in by 5 p.m. Friday and still be counted. People who need to add documentation to shore up a provisional ballot have until then, as well. The results will be certified Nov. 15.
At the polls
WTOP has been covering the lines, the turnout and voters’ reactions all day. Have a look at our continuing coverage, including photos.
Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."