Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s election on Wednesday and another Republican was within striking distance of doing the same in New Jersey, a warning that President Joe Biden’s Democrats are at a disadvantage heading into next year’s congressional elections.
Youngkin, who surged in the polls in the campaign’s final weeks, beat former Governor Terry McAuliffe, CNN and NBC projected.
A former private equity executive who has never held elected office, Youngkin sold himself as a political outsider while seeking to rally suburban voters around hot-button issues like how to handle the discussion of racism in schools and COVID-19 mask mandates.
Meanwhile, Republican Jack Ciattarelli held a narrow lead in the New Jersey governor’s race over incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy with approximately 80% of the vote counted, though some Democratic strongholds were still counting ballots.
The results in two states that Biden won easily last year over Donald Trump represent a dire sign for Democrats heading into the 2022 midterms, which will decide control of the U.S. Congress – and with it, the future of Biden’s policy agenda.
Polls leading up to Election Day showed that Youngkin closed the gap with McAuliffe by appealing to independent voters – a group that was alienated in 2020 by Trump’s firebrand style of politics but was more drawn to Youngkin’s congenial manner – despite McAuliffe’s attempts to link Youngkin to the former president.
Trump, meanwhile, sought to claim credit for Youngkin’s victory.
Youngkin will succeed outgoing Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat. Under Virginia state law, governors cannot serve consecutive terms. McAuliffe, 64, served as governor from 2014 to 2018.
The contest between Youngkin and McAuliffe focused heavily on U.S. culture wars.
He leaned into the Republican Party’s expressions of outrage over the discussion of systemic racism in schools. He vowed to ban the teaching of “critical race theory,” a legal framework that examines how racism shapes U.S. laws and policies, ignoring the fact that Virginia schools do not teach the subject.
Youngkin drew sharp criticism from Democrats when he initially hesitated to denounce Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him, false claims that have continued to rile his supporters and led to a mob of Trump supporters attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
In New York, Brooklyn Borough President and former police Captain Eric Adams, a Democrat, will become the city’s second Black mayor after easily beating Republican Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels civilian street patrol.