Since Virginia and New Jersey are the only states to have statewide elections in the odd year after each presidential election, many pundits and politicians look at the tea leaves to try to discern the current mood of the American electorate after voters in the Old Dominion go to the polls.
After an unprecedented season of early voting that began on September 17, the elections for Virginia governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all one hundred members of the House of Delegates ended on Tuesday, November 2.
After about a decade in the political wilderness, the Virginia GOP enjoyed a successful night as a majority of Virginia voters signaled the desire for change. The last time the GOP won all three statewide offices in the Commonwealth was in 2009, after the Democrat Obama wave election of 2008.
Democrats entered the current contest as the heavy favorites. Since 2009, Virginia Democrats had enjoyed a remarkable thirteen wins in a row for each statewide office election: for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and our two US senators.
Large population growth in the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia has fueled this trend for years. At the same time, many GOP-leaning, rural areas of Western and Southside Virginia have had stagnant or decreased population growth.
Polls as recent as September still showed McAuliffe and the Democrat candidates enjoying impressive double-digit leads. Furthermore, as a former governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe led in name recognition as well as fund-raising. However, starting in late September, polls indicated a tightening race and in the final days before November indicated the outcome would be a nail-biter. These close polls helped fuel the intense national media coverage and speculation.
At the end, Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin bested McAuliffe by about 2 points. Youngkin left the business world to become a political neophyte and has won his first race.
Marine veteran and immigrant from Jamaica Winsome Sears defeated Hala Ayala, a member of the House of Delegates who was elected in the anti-Trump wave of 2017. Sears is making history as both the first nonwhite and woman to hold the office of lieutenant governor. In that position, she will have the tie-breaking vote in the Virginia Senate. The Virginia Senate currently has a 21-19 Democrat majority, so tie-breaking is an important role. Sears also prevailed by about a 2 point margin.
The attorney general functions as a chief lawyer for the state. For the past eight years that has been Mark Herring (D), but he was edged out by slightly over a 1 point margin by challenger Jason Miyares. Miyares, whose mother escaped communism as a child from Cuba, will now be the first Hispanic to hold statewide office in the Old Dominion.
In addition to winning the top three statewide offices, the GOP also flipped the House of Delegates back to their control. Going into November 2, Democrats held a 55-45 lead in the House, thanks to previous years of anti-Trump sentiment. However, as of now it is clear the Republicans will have a narrow 51-49 edge when the new House convenes in January, if not somewhat higher as some close races are still being recounted.
Republicans flipping the House of Delegates is an even more remarkable feat when one considers the Democrat candidates vastly outspent their GOP challengers.
Though the GOP win was convincing and thorough, it still shows a divided state with a strong two party system. The Youngkin/Sears/Miyares ticket, though winning with a significant margin, did not win in a landslide.
What many people find disturbing is the continued deep political divides based on geography. While McAuliffe beat Youngkin by about 2 to 1 in vote-rich Fairfax County, Youngkin trounced McAuliffe by about the same margin in Roanoke County. In many parts of Southwest and Southside Virginia, the GOP bested the Democrats with an 80-20 ratio, if not more.
It seems the Republicans’ successful formula included boosting their voter turnout in their traditional strongholds while working to whittle down Democrat margins in bluer areas of the state like Northern Virginia, Tidewater, and the Richmond area.
In both mainstream and conservative media, the Virginia election results, their causes, and their consequences are still garnering lots of airtime.
The new leaders will take their oaths of office and assume their new positions on Saturday, January 15, 2022 in Richmond.