Republican Glenn Youngkin wins Virginia governor race, showing Trump’s political influence remains strong

November 3, 2021, 4:45 AM UTC

Glenn Youngkin won Tuesday’s governor’s race in Virginia by a margin of 2.5% in what was one of this year’s most closely watched elections. 

Youngkin ended up with 50.9% of the vote while his Democratic competitor, Terry McAuliffe, had 48.4%, with over 95% of the vote counted, according to the Associated Press.

Democrats saw the gubernatorial battle as a gauge of the nation’s broader political appetite and as a test balloon for what’s to come during next year’s midterm elections when the party of President Joe Biden attempts to maintain control of the House and Senate. 

The off-year election was also indicative of the strength that former President Donald Trump holds over Republicans. Trump’s endorsement of Republican gubernatorial candidate Youngkin coincided with his quick rise in polls against Democrat McAuliffe, who had served as governor from 2014 to 2018; the state forbids governors from holding two consecutive terms.

Heading into election night, the candidates were in a dead heat. 

Republican and Democratic operatives across the country paid particularly close attention to this election—a Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009. A Youngkin victory would indicate that the GOP was on its way to regaining the suburban, college-educated voters it had largely lost during the Trump era. It would also indicate that Trump is now able to sway those more moderate Republican voters, signaling his importance in the 2022 midterms and his viability as a candidate in 2024. 

Trump lost Virginia in both 2016 and 2020, but Youngkin has found success in embracing Trump’s endorsement. 

“Trump represents so much of why I’m running,” he told voters earlier this fall. While campaigning, Youngkin steered clear of alienating Trump supporters by avoiding questions about whether President Biden had legitimately won his election (Trump, of course, disputes the outcome). Meanwhile, Youngkin championed the need for more election integrity. 

In victory, Youngkin’s campaign will likely serve as the model for Republicans in 2022. He rallied against schools teaching “critical race theory,” or acknowledging and discussing racism, and opposed requiring masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID. 

In a statement, Trump said in Youngkin on Monday: “We get along very well together and strongly believe in many of the same policies. Especially when it comes to the important subject of education.”

But McAuliffe hoped that Trump would be enough to dissuade Virginia’s moderate voters. “He wants to bring Donald Trump politics to Virginia,” McAuliffe said during a September debate against Youngkin. “[He] tries to come here to Northern Virginia and pretend: ‘Oh, I’m some moderate.’ He’s not.”

In campaign ads, McAuliffe referred to his opponent as “Glenn Trumpkin.”

Virginia has quickly become a proxy battle between Democrats and Republicans, indicative of what Democrats find at stake next year. Both President Biden and former President Barack Obama have visited the state in recent weeks in order to campaign on McAuliffe’s behalf. 

Democrats fear that losing a marquee race in a state that Biden won by 10 points just one year ago could lead to momentum problems nationally. Ahead of the election on Tuesday, legislators from the party’s centrist and progressive wings were already trying to distance themselves from any blame. 

“Clearly, showing that we can make progress would have been nice,” said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, a former Virginia governor, about the infrastructure legislation that’s advancing at a glacial pace in Congress.

Progressives claimed that their lack of progress would not impact the election. “I’ve watched all the attack ads on Terry McAuliffe, and not a single one has talked about [infrastructure] not passing. They’ve all been about other things,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Monday.

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