Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin was poised to defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race Tuesday, according to unofficial results showing him about to become only the fourth Republican to win the office in the past 40 years in what used to be a solidly red state.
By 9:15 p.m., Youngkin was well on his way to thwarting McAuliffe’s attempt to retake the office he left in 2018, with a strong showing in both rural and suburban areas. Dave Wasserman, editor of the Cook Political report, called the race for Youngkin, as did the Republican Governors Association.
In unofficial returns, he had 54% of the vote to McAuliffe’s 45.4% with 74% of precincts reporting.
The race tightened as it was driven by culture wars in public schools across the nation, including in Virginia’s populous but liberal Loudoun and Fairfax counties, both suburbs of Washington.
Youngkin, 54, would be the first Republican to win the governor’s mansion since Robert McDonnell in 2010. Seven of the state’s last 10 governors (including 64-year-old McAuliffe) were Democrats.
The Virginia Constitution does not allow governors to serve consecutive four-year terms. Only two governors since 1830, William Smith and Mills Godwin, had won additional terms.
Two sexual assaults this year at public high schools in Loudoun County, the state’s fourth-largest jurisdiction, activated many parents, who already were protesting the school system’s use of critical race theory to frame lessons.
Parents criticized the Loudoun County School Board for badly mishandling and covering up the sexual assaults, which local law enforcement concluded were committed by the same teenage boy, who reportedly wore a skirt into a girls’ restroom where the first assault occurred in May.
The school board previously was criticized for its policy on transgender students (adopted in August) and an equity plan promising “a racially conscious, identity-affirming and culturally responsive learning space for every student and employee.”
Youngkin, who initially approached hot button culture issues such as abortion with caution, leaned hard on McAuliffe’s comments about parents and schools.
The Republican candidate also emphasized the dangers of critical race theory and political ideology in schools, drawing on Loudoun County as the ominous example of what progressive politics will do to public schools.
“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” McAuliffe said during a September gubernatorial debate–a comment that proved to be highly effective marketing content for the Youngkin campaign.
“I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education,” Youngkin countered.
Former state Delegate Winsome Sears, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, led the Democrat, state Delegate Hala Ayala, by 54.5% to 45.5%.
And in the race for Virginia’s third statewide office, attorney general, state Delegate Jason Miyares, a Republican, led Democratic incumbent Mark Herring, who was seeking a third term, 54.1% to 45.9%.
The McAuliffe campaign frequently sought to link Youngkin to former President Donald Trump, and the Democrat campaigned with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and former President Barack Obama.
McAuliffe also accused Youngkin of using “racist dog whistles” to rally voters.
“Do you really want, parents here, sending your child to first grade where the teacher’s not vaxxed and they’re not wearing masks?” McAuliffe asked at a campaign event Monday. “Well, that’s what you get with Glenn Trumpkin.”
At a Monday night Youngkin rally in Loudoun County, many parents told The Daily Signal that they support Youngkin out of a desire to retain more control over their children’s education and to avoid the pitfalls of progressive education such as critical race theory.
“I’m Hispanic, descended from Belize but raised in America,” one father told The Daily Signal as the crowd waited for Youngkin to arrive. “I absolutely love America, so that’s why I’m here.”
“I like the fact that he’s standing up for parents,” the father explained, calling Youngkin a “believer” in God who has promised to ban critical race theory in schools.
Youngkin rose to various leadership posts over 25 years at the Washington-based equity firm The Carlyle Group, departing in 2020 as co-CEO. In his first bid for elective office, he defeated six other candidates at a state convention to become the GOP’s nominee for Virginia governor.
Born in Richmond, Youngkin attended Rice University on a basketball scholarship, graduating with bachelor’s degrees in managerial studies and mechanical engineering. He received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1994.
An influential Democrat nationally, McAuliffe was co-chairman of President Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign in 1996, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008, and chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005.
McAuliffe, who first made his mark as a real estate investor and developer, won the 2013 race for Virginia governor by defeating Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Libertarian Robert Sarvis. Born in Syracuse, N.Y., he received a bachelor’s degree from Catholic University and, in 1984, a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
McAuliffe recently paid $53,000 to retain lawyer Marc Elias, a lawyer who aids Democrats in high profile election cases and has helped several Democrats win elections at the 11th hour. Some political observes saw this as a sign that the former governor was prepared to fight through a close outcome.
At least 1.14 Virginia residents voted early, or roughly submitted one fifth of the state’s 5.9 million electorate, CNBC reported, citing the Democratic data firm and the Virginia Department of Elections.
Early voting was almost six times larger than in 2017, when at least 189,890 voters sent in early ballots, CNBC reported, citing TargetSmart.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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