The Republican candidate has pulled off a stunning upset to win the governor’s mansion in Virginia, US television networks predicted, in a race seen as an early verdict on President Joe Biden’s first year in office.
Newcomer Glenn Yongkin was 2.7 points ahead of Democrat Terry McAuliffe in a neck-and-neck fight just after midnight, with more than 95% of the vote counted, prompting NBC, CNN and ABC to call for the Republican election.
The race was a harbinger of the parties’ prospects in next year’s midterm elections, and the race was initially expected to be a comforting win for Democrats, but instead became a failure in the final days of the campaign.
Millions of private equity holders who have never run for office from the defeat of a former Democratic governor will be seen as a disaster for Biden, who is running in the all-important 2022 races that will determine who controls Congress.
«Okay Virginia – we won this thing! How fun!» Yongkin, who has spent at least $20 million of his fortune racing, told jubilant fans after dancing on stage to Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 song «Soul in Heaven.»
Describing his victory as a «decisive moment,» he told the crowd, «Together, we will change the course of this commonwealth. And friends, we will begin this transformation on day one.»
The election, which has been a neck-and-neck struggle for weeks, resonated across the country as a proxy war between Biden and former President Donald Trump, who gave Yongkin his early support.
Yongkin’s campaign will now likely become a blueprint for Republicans across the country as they strategize how to capitalize on Trump’s base while avoiding tainting him with his toxic brand among midterm moderates.
Loyal Democrats desperately wanted the race to be a referendum on Trump, but in reality it had little to do with the campaign and was never likely to prove the motivating enemy they hoped for.
Early in the campaign, Yongkin accepted Trump’s endorsement and shied away from criticizing the twice impeached former president.
But he’s also conspicuously avoided siding with the Republican leader, who is seen as past the pale among independents in much of Virginia, or presenting himself as Trump’s aide.
McAuliffe’s loss will almost certainly scare moderates on Capitol Hill and push some away from supporting Biden’s faltering $3 trillion vision of reshaping the economy.
Long delays in passing promised welfare and infrastructure packages are an echo of 2009-2010, when Democrats suffered heavy losses amid the deadlock in Washington.
Elections were also held in several other states, with voters overwhelmingly supporting Democrat Eric Adams for mayor of New York and Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy directly behind him in a surprisingly close re-election battle he was nonetheless expected to win.
But Virginia is where the battle lines are most clearly drawn.
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McAuliffe faced major headwinds as he tried to return to the position he held four years earlier, as Washington’s majority party typically suffered losses during its first term.
Yongkin had to do his own thing, because the vast majority of Republicans believed Trump’s false claims that the presidency had been stolen in a rigged election, making admitting the truth politically risky.
Instead, he shifted the conversation to local «culture war» issues such as abortion, mask mandates, and the teaching of America’s racial history.
McAuliffe led early in the race, but his seven-point advantage has evaporated in recent days, with the polling average by political analysis website FiveThirtyEight showing Yongkin a single point ahead on Election Day.
The 64-year-old swayed his image as the establishment candidate, selling himself as a former incumbent who brought jobs back after the 2008 global financial crisis, and vowed to repeat the trick to tackle the pandemic.
But nine months after the Democrats added the US Senate to their White House victory, Virginians sought a fresh start, giving Youngkin 51 percent of the vote and the Republican Party its first statewide office in the so-called old Dominion in more than a decade.
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