Sears becomes Virginia’s 1st female lieutenant governor

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Republican Winsome Sears, who returned to Virginia politics after an absence of nearly two decades, has become the first female lieutenant governor and the first woman of color to win statewide office in Virginia.

Sears defeated Democrat Hala Ayala in Tuesday’s election. Ayala also would have been the first woman of color to hold statewide office if she had won.

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks during an election-night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pitted Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin shoots an autographed basketball into the crowd with his family at an election-night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pitted Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and his wife Suzanne kiss as they take the stage at an election-night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pitted Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and his family take the stage at an election-night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pitted Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin arrives to speak at an election night party in Chantilly, Va., early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, after he defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin takes the stage at an election-night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pitted Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (R) takes a photo with (L-R) Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK) during a watch party on election night at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pits Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin wait for him to speak on election night in Chantilly, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The stage is set before Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks on election night in Chantilly, Va.,Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and his staff watch results come in on election night at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pits Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (2nd-L) and his wife Suzanne (L) talk to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his wife Heidi, during an election night watch party at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pits Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe gestures as he speaks at an election night party in McLean, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

MCLEAN, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks at his election night rally on November 02, 2021 in McLean, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pits McAuliffe against Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. Also pictured is current Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

MCLEAN, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks at his election night rally on November 02, 2021 in McLean, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pits McAuliffe against Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

MCLEAN, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Supporters listen as Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks at his election night rally on November 02, 2021 in McLean, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pits McAuliffe against Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe prepares to speak at an election night party in McLean, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, right, and his wife, Dorothy, wave to the crowd as he makes an appearance at an election night party in McLean, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, right, hugs his wife, Dorothy, as he makes an appearance at an election night party in McLean, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin wait for him to speak on election night in Chantilly, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Fairfax County, Virginia, residents line up to vote early Tuesday. (WTOP/John Domen)

A man casts his vote in Fairfax County, Virginia. (WTOP/John Domen)

Residents vote at Liberty Elementary School in South Riding. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Voters in Fairfax County. (WTOP/Kristi King)

An image of sample Virginia ballots captured on Nov. 2, 2021. (WTOP/Kristi King)

A Republican canvasser hands out sample ballots at the republican booth outside the Fairfax County Government Center polling location on election day in Fairfax, Virginia, on November 2, 2021. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A man waits to cast his ballot at George Marshall High School on election day in Falls Church, Virginia on November 2, 2021 – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Voters wait for their ballots at a school cafeteria being used as a polling location on election day in McLean, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A voter collects a sample ballot from a democratic canvasser outside a polling location on election day in McLean, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Voters wait for their ballots at George Marshall High School on election day in Falls Church, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A voter fills in her ballot as her child tries to put a snack on a table at a school cafeteria being used as a polling location on election day in McLean, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A man votes at George Marshall High School, being used as a polling location, on election day in Falls Church, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A woman waits to cast her ballot at George Marshall High School, being used as a polling location, on election day in Falls Church, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A man waits to cast his ballot at George Marshall High School on election day in Falls Church, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A woman waits to cast her ballot at George Marshall High School, being used as a polling location, on election day in Falls Church, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A woman gets a voting sticker after casting her ballot at George Marshall High School on election day in Falls Church, Virginia on November 2, 2021. – With the eyes of America watching, Virginians cast their ballots Tuesday as the state chooses its next governor in a margin-of-error skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden’s political brand. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin greets a voter outside of a voting location in the Rocky Run Middle School on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginia’s gubernatorial race pits Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe rallies supporters at a Canvass Kickoff event on November 02, 2021 in Falls Church, Virginia. Virginia and New Jersey hold off-year elections today in the first major elections since U.S. President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020. Virginia’s gubernatorial race pits Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bob Wood, moves signs to another location, as voters arrive to cast the their ballots on Election Day at city hall, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Alexandria, Va. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin for Governor. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Voters head to the polls at a school in Midlothian, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin for Governor. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Voters arrive to cast the their ballots on Election Day at City Hall, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Alexandria, Va. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin for governor. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Voters hold their ballots as they wait in line to register their votes at a school in Midlothian, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin for Governor. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe rallies supporters at a Canvass Kickoff event on November 02, 2021 in Falls Church, Virginia. Virginia and New Jersey hold off-year elections today in the first major elections since U.S. President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020. Virginia’s gubernatorial race pits Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin plays basketball near a voting location in the Rocky Run Middle School on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginia’s gubernatorial race pits Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

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The Republican rocketed out of political obscurity earlier this year when she won the GOP nomination on the strength of a campaign photo in which she posed holding a military rifle.

A former Marine, Sears had a brief stint in electoral politics 20 years ago as a one-term delegate in the General Assembly, representing parts of Hampton Roads. Her return to politics after a two-decade absence began when she served as national chairperson for Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump.

Sears will succeed Democrat Justin Fairfax, who unsuccessfully ran for governor. The marquee election Tuesday was the gubernatorial race, which Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin won, defeating former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Early Wednesday, Sears stood with her family in front of cheering supporters at a victory party in Chantilly, saying, “What you are looking at is the American Dream.”

Throughout the race, Sears also highlighted her background as a Jamaican immigrant, campaigning against illegal immigration and rejecting the notion that the nation is plagued by systemic racism.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I am Black and I have been Black all my life,” she said. “But that’s not what this is about. What we are going to do is we are now going to be about the business of the commonwealth. We have things to tend to.”

She said she will work to fully fund historically Black colleges and implement Youngkin’s agenda.

“He’s going to get rid of all kinds of taxes,” she said.

Sears’ role as a tiebreaking vote in a closely divided state Senate has become even more important after Tuesday’s results. Republicans won the governor’s mansion, and the GOP is also claiming that it has regained control of the House of Delegates, though several key races are still too early to call.

If Republicans do gain control of the House, the only thing blocking them from total control of state government is a narrow 21-19 Democratic advantage in the state Senate. Senators are not up for reelection until 2023.

If Republicans can pick up just one centrist Democrat on key pieces of legislation, Sears could be the tiebreaking vote to ensure passage.

Democrats have been particularly concerned about abortion legislation. Ayala made supporting a woman’s right to an abortion a key issue in her campaign, noting that the Senate is already an even 20-20 split on the issue. That’s because Democrat Joe Morrissey has voted against some legislation that would have expanded abortion rights in the state.

Sears has long opposed abortion, something she links to her Christian faith.

“I’m a Christian first, and a Republican second. I don’t want to hear about your economic policies and you’re going to build the country if we have to kill babies along the way,” she told an interviewer in 2019.

For attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring was seeking a third term against Republican Jason Miyares, a delegate from Virginia Beach. Herring would be the first attorney general to win a third term since World War II. The race was still too early to call.

Ayala on Wednesday afternoon said on Twitter, “The results are in, and while they may not be what we had hoped for, this is just the beginning.”

She congratulated Sears on “making history and paving the way for future women leaders who look like us,” and called her defeat “simply a minor setback in our larger fight for progress.”

Miyares, the son of a Cuban immigrant, declared victory early Wednesday, saying he is now the first Latino to be elected statewide in Virginia.

“I can’t wait to go to work with Governor Youngkin and Lieutenant Governor Sears for you,” Miyares said.

Herring had not conceded defeat Wednesday morning.

Jurisdictions throughout the state reported high turnout, with roughly 3.3 million ballots tallied by 3 a.m. Wednesday. That greatly exceeded the 2.6 million ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election in 2017, which itself was a high turnout year. The turnout in 2017 was in part a backlash to Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Democrats swept all three statewide elections in 2017.

Republicans have struggled in Virginia over the past decade — Democrats have won every statewide election since 2009. But now at least two of the three Republican candidates this year have broken that streak.

Both the attorney general and the lieutenant governor posts have served as launching pads to the governor’s mansion. Half of the past 10 lieutenant governors in Virginia have gone on to be governor. The previous nine elected attorneys general all ran for governor.

___

Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Chantilly, Virginia, and Alexandra Jaffe in McLean, Virginia, contributed to this report, as did WTOP’s Rick Massimo.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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