Republican Glenn Youngkin Elected Governor of Virginia, Besting Terry McAuliffe after Eight Years of Democratic Rule

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin takes the stage to react to election results during an election-night party in Chantilly, Va., November 3, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Republican Glenn Youngkin was declared the winner of the Virginia gubernatorial race by a number of outlets and election analysts on Tuesday night after a hard-fought campaign that he entered as a significant underdog. 

Despite trailing former governor Terry McAuliffe by as much as six and a half points in the RealClearPolitics polling average as late as the last week of August, Youngkin ultimately triumphed thanks to a hyper-focus on local issues and a commitment to walking the line between Trump supporters in rural, southern Virginia and wealthier suburbanites who were alienated by the MAGA wing of the party. 

While some prognosticators such as Cook Political’s Dave Wasserman called the race before 9:00p.m. on Tuesday, networks like Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and NBC waited until early on Wednesday morning to project Youngkin as the winner.

Taking the stage at his election night victory party, Youngkin told the assembled crowd, “together we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth. And friends we are going to start that transformation on day one. There is no time to waste. Our kids can’t wait, we work in real people time not government time.”

He went on to detail his priorities for education reform, vowing to pair an increase in the public education budget with an expansion of school choice. He also nodded toward the defining issue of the race: parent involvement in school curricula.

“We are going to embrace Virginia parents, not ignore them,” he said.

Youngkin will take office in 2022 after eight years of Democratic control of the state’s executive branch, and after two years years of a Democratic trifecta of the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the legislature running the state.

According to the state’s department of elections, McAuliffe will only be able to ask for a recount if the final margin separating him from Youngkin “is not more than one percent (1%) of the total votes cast for those two candidates.”

A former CEO of the Carlyle Group trying his hand at politics for the first time, Youngkin triumphed over a number of more experienced, and more bombastic GOP primary competitors before defeating McAuliffe, who served as governor 2014-2018. Youngkin will be the first Republican to occupy the governor’s mansion since Bob McDonnell, who left office in 2014.

Under unified Democratic control, the state has seen progressive legislation raising the minimum wage, imposing harsher carbon emissions standards, and using schools as factories for social engineering enacted. 

The governor-elect has promised an audit of the entire state government, a more efficient bureaucracy, and lower taxes, but the story of the race was education. While Democrats traditionally enjoy an advantage on the issue, Youngkin exploited weaknesses exposed by the refusal of the teachers’ unions — aided by Democratic officeholders — to return to the classroom during the pandemic, as well as concerns about racialized curricula and transgender policies. Youngkin’s messaging on those issues — and McAuliffe’s admission that he doesn’t believe parents should have a say over what’s taught in their children’s schools — led to a 15-point Republican advantage with K-12 parents.

The myriad concerns under the education umbrella not only helped Youngkin build a lead with independent voters, but also had the benefit of uniting the various factions of the GOP, allowing Youngkin to sidestep factional divides over former president Donald Trump.

In addition to rescuing Virginia Republicans from eight years of Democratic governance, Youngkin also may have provided a roadmap for the GOP in other purple and baby-blue states. For Republicans, that the race was close at all represented an encouraging sign for the 2022 midterms. For Democrats, McAuliffe’s loss should be more than alarming, not just because it exemplifies their vulnerabilities, but because it provides the GOP with the aforementioned roadmap for running an issue-oriented campaign that both turns out the base and sways undecideds. Moreover, so long as Republicans don’t shoot themselves in the foot by pulling Trump too close or pushing him too far away, it appears that voters will not be moved by a Trump-heavy Democratic message — even on fertile ground for it like suburban Virginia. 

Youngkin’s win was not the only bad omen for progressives on Election Day. A little after midnight on Wednesday morning, Republican Jack Ciattarelli was leading incumbent Democratic governor Phil Murphy in New Jersey with almost 80 percent of the estimated vote reporting, a shocking development in one of the bluest states in the country. Meanwhile, in municipalities like Minneapolis, ballot measures to abolish or rebrand police departments were soundly rejected.

In Virginia, Youngkin can expect to have his hands full fulfilling his campaign pledges. In the other 49 states, Democrats will have theirs full figuring out how to counter the new, Youngkin-authored playbook, as well as the resounding revulsion to the progressive agenda on display tonight.

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