The former Carlyle Group CEO bested Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe Tuesday night following a race that focused heavily on false claims about 'critical race theory.'
Glenn Youngkin will be Virginia's next governor.
Multiple outlets made the call early Wednesday morning just after midnight, capping a hard-fought race that tightened substantially in the final weeks, with last-minute preelection polls showing a statistical tie.
The former Carlyle Group CEO bested Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe, the 72nd governor of Virginia, who served from 2014 to 2018, by slightly more than 2 percentage points, with 95% of votes counted.
"Together, we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth — and friends, we are going to start that transformation on Day 1," Youngkin said in a victory speech early on Wednesday, promising to "reestablish excellence in our schools."
McAuliffe conceded the race later Wednesday morning. "While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in," he said in a statement.
"Congratulations to Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin on his victory. I hope Virginians will join me in wishing the best to him and his family," he added.
McAuliffe's running mate, Hala Ayala, had hoped to make history Tuesday night as the first woman of color elected lieutenant governor in Virginia. Ayala ultimately lost that bid to Republican former state Del. Winsome Sears, Youngkin's running mate.
Republican attorney general candidate Jason Miyares was also victorious against incumbent Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring on Tuesday, sealing the GOP's statewide sweep.
The race evolved substantially in the past few months. In August, Youngkin was relying on ads focused on Virginia's crime rates, trying to tie the former governor to controversial slogans such as "Defund the police" and "Abolish ICE."
Throughout the election, Youngkin steadfastly refused to offer details about his own policy ideas. His campaign website lacked a visible issues section until the end of August, and his staffers once cut off an interview with the Associated Press when a reporter began asking Youngkin about policy.
Some have suggested the Virginia governor's election was a referendum on many national issues, including the country's view of former President Donald Trump since he left the White House in January and President Joe Biden's first year in office. "Critical race theory" and COVID-19 safety measures were also hot-button issue for many conservatives.
At a tele-rally on Monday night, Trump directed his "great, giant, beautiful base" to vote for Youngkin and claimed that if Democrats won, they would "abolish the suburbs as you know them today" and "ruin that very special place where you live."
Biden, meanwhile, urged Virginia voters to "show up for a proven leader like Terry McAuliffe."
"Virginia, you've made incredible progress over the last few years on jobs, the economy, health care, education, growing the middle class, and more," Biden tweeted on Saturday. "To protect that progress, you have to once again show up for democracy and make sure to vote on Tuesday. The country is watching."
As the furor in Loudoun County over school boards and supposed "critical race theory" curricula began to capture national headlines — to say nothing of the misleading spin and highly charged atmosphere around a pair of sexual assaults that took place in the county's public school system — Youngkin and his allies pivoted in a similar direction.
Republicans were quick to seize on a gaffe McAuliffe made at a Sept. 28 gubernatorial debate while discussing the issue of public education. "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach," McAuliffe said, adding, "I get really tired of people running down teachers. I love teachers!"
The McAuliffe campaign's strategy remained consistent throughout the race: tie his opponent to the former Republican president, no matter how hard Youngkin tried to distance himself from Trump. On the campaign trail, McAuliffe relentlessly compared the two Republicans and called Youngkin a "Trump wannabe."
"Donald Trump wants to win here tomorrow night so he can the next day announce for president of the United States of America, but we're going to put an end to Donald Trump's future plans, right here in Virginia," McAuliffe told supporters at a rally in Fairfax on Monday. "I've beaten Trump twice in Virginia. Tomorrow we go 3 and 0."
Concerns over abortion faded into the background, as did many other policy issues. The race was often light on substance and heavy on culture war provocations. Though exit polls on Tuesday showed the economy as a top priority, they showed "education" and COVID-19 were front of mind for many Virginians as well.
Youngkin vocally opposed Virginia's COVID-19 mandates for public workers, which were put in place by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. In September, Youngkin was caught on camera suggesting that if elected, he could "remove" the state's public health requirements "on day one."
Democrats in Virginia and across the country met Tuesday night's results with collective grief: The state is seen as a crucial bellwether ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats will have to defend their current majorities in both chambers of Congress.
This story has been updated with additional statements from the McAuliffe campaign.
With additional reporting by Emma Roller and Melanie Schmitz.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.