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Businessperson Glenn Youngkin won the Republican nomination for governor in Virginia, emerging from a crowded field to claim the GOP mantle for one of the most closely watched races of 2021.
Youngkin defeated fellow businessperson Pete Snyder in the sixth and final round of a ranked-choice tabulation that took most of the day on Monday, 55 percent to 45 percent, though Snyder conceded before counting concluded. Virginia Republicans eschewed holding a state-run primary and instead opted for what organizers described as an “unassembled convention,” with about 30,000 pre-registered Republicans voting at nearly 40 sites across the commonwealth on Saturday.
Youngkin, a former CEO at the private equity firm Carlyle Group, brings a significant capacity to self-fund to the race. He had personally loaned his campaign $5.5 million through the end of March — according to the last available campaign finance report.
“Virginians have made it clear that they are ready for a political outsider with proven business experience to bring real change in Richmond,” Youngkin said in a statement shortly after Snyder conceded.
Youngkin's victory closes a contentious primary process that saw months of in-fighting among Republicans in the state over the process of how the party would pick its nominee. Eventually, they opted for a “firehouse primary,” but not before multiple gatherings and threats from one of the candidates, controversial state Sen. Amanda Chase, to run as an independent depending on the rules the party put in place.
Democrats will pick their nominee on June 8 in a state-run primary. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who couldn’t seek a second consecutive term four years ago but is running again, is well ahead of his competitors in most polls, though former state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax are also in the running for the Democratic nomination. Incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam is term-limited.
November’s general election will be perhaps the most competitive statewide race of the year. Though Virginia voted for now-President Joe Biden, the state has often veered away from the party that occupies the White House in gubernatorial races: One year after Virginia voted for Barack Obama, voters in 2009 chose Republican Bob McDonnell for governor by a double-digit margin.
Still, former President Donald Trump remains a very unpopular figure. He lost Virginia to Biden by 10 points, and a Christopher Newport University poll earlier this year found that a majority of Virginia voters said Trump was worse than most presidents while in office.
But in order to win over the party activists in the primary, Youngkin and the rest of the gubernatorial field embraced much of Trump’s legacy. One of Youngkin’s earliest moves in the race was to introduce an “election integrity task force” — an unmistakable response to Trump’s repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. He also promoted a clip of the former president praising him during the trade war with China. (Trump, who has weighed in on Republican primaries in other states, including intraparty battles for state party chair posts, did not endorse in this race.)
Youngkin, like much of the rest of the field, ran on red-meat conservative issues. The former Rice University basketball player’s campaign cut a March Madness-themed ad hitting Democrats’ “out there socialist ideas” including defunding the police, “canceling Dr. Seuss” and raising taxes. And in the closing days of the primary campaign, he barnstormed the state with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a late endorsee of Youngkin.
“I think that Sen. Cruz has a tremendous amount of legitimacy to the claim that Glenn is not only capable of providing leadership and [is] right on policy, but he is going to be a conservative when he gets into office,” state Sen. Steve Newman said last week, before votes were cast.
Republicans largely expect to face off against McAuliffe in November. McAuliffe narrowly won in 2013 in a race that included a Libertarian candidate who earned about 6.5 percent of the vote.
The former governor blasted Youngkin in a statement shortly after his victory. “Glenn Youngkin has gone all in on Trump's most dangerous, divisive conspiracy theories, and his extreme social agenda is clear,” he said in a statement. “I've beaten extreme Republicans like Glenn before, and I'm ready to do it again.”
Republicans also picked state Del. Jason Miyares as their nominee for state attorney general. In the Democratic primary next month, incumbent Mark Herring is facing off against an intraparty challenger, state Del. Jay Jones. The vote counting for the Republican lieutenant governor’s nomination is expected to take place on Tuesday.
In addition to the statewide races, there will likely be a fierce battle over the state House, which Democrats flipped in 2019, giving them unified control of state government for the first time in decades.
Democrats have won a string of victories in Virginia in statewide races as of late. After McAulliffe’s narrow victory in 2013, Northam won by about 9 points over Republican Ed Gillespie in 2017. Biden's 10-point victory in 2020 was a roughly 5-point improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin of victory.