Written by Edgard Lacayo
Last week, Virginians chose republican Glenn Youngkin as their governor. In a close race against democratic candidate, and former governor, Terry McAuliffe, Youngkin won the election with 50.6% of the vote while McAuliffe received 48.7% of the vote. Youngkin successfully ran a campaign that focused on issues that swing suburban voters cared about such as increasing education funding, school curriculum, and lower taxes. Another key to his success was the balancing act between appealing to Trump’s base and other voters. He was able to attract Trump supporters’ vote while distancing himself from Trump’s style of politics, which was very unappealing to suburban voters in the 2020 election. In contrast, McAuliffe was criticized for not focusing on his achievements as governor in his campaign and instead focusing on connecting Youngkin to Trump. Ultimately this message failed especially since Youngkin built an image of a basketball coaching, fleece vest wearing suburban dad. This made him very inoffensive towards suburban voters.
This election also saw the return of a trend in Virginia politics where the state picks a governor of the opposition party rather than the same party that is in the White House. This trend had been interrupted when McAuliffe became governor in 2014 after Obama won the 2012 election. Another significant outcome of this election was the election of republican Winsome Sears as lieutenant governor. Sears has broken barriers this election by being both the first Black female lieutenant governor of Virginia. This is the highest office a woman has been elected to in the state.
This election has been noted at the national level for showing both republicans and democrats what the future 2022 midterms, and to a lesser extent, the 2024 general election, might look like. For democrats, it has shown that associating their rivals to Trump has very limited effects, even in blue states. It also shows that suburban voters are still swing voters and that a state’s demographics do not translate to the ballot as much as democrats had hoped.
For republicans, this election might have shown a way forward in the post-Trump years. Youngkin was able to win by projecting a much softer image in the state that was very different from the image of Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, Youngkin outperformed Trump in suburban areas. What was a surprise, however, was that he even outperformed Trump in many rural areas. Even though Youngkin accepted Trump’s endorsement, he only had to play into a few issues that the Trump base cared about, like election integrity, to win them over. His victory has shown that republicans can run on issues like education and lower taxes and win without necessarily relying on Trump to win elections.