Republican Glenn Youngkin prevailed over Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe in Virginia's gubernatorial race, a major upset that serves as an ominous sign for Democrats in 2022.
Youngkin led McAuliffe by roughly 9 points with 74 percent of the vote reported at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night. The Republican campaigned heavily on critical race theory backlash in Northern Virginia's deep-blue suburbs, a strategy that helped him erode Democratic gains among affluent white voters. In Loudoun County, where parental pushback on the controversial curriculum's inclusion in public schools generated national headlines, Youngkin improved on former president Donald Trump's 2020 vote margin by 15 points.
McAuliffe for months held a strong lead over the Republican in a state President Joe Biden won by double digits just one year ago. In the weeks approaching Election Day, however, Youngkin quickly closed the gap after McAuliffe made a race-defining gaffe: During a September debate, the former governor defended his veto of a 2016 bill that aimed to notify parents of "sexually explicit content" in public classrooms by saying, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what to teach."
As the race tightened, Democrats turned to increasingly shady tactics in an attempt to turn the tide. At a Friday Youngkin event in Charlottesville, for example, Democratic operatives led by the Lincoln Project posed as neo-Nazis while chanting, "We're all in for Glenn." The McAuliffe campaign immediately promoted the operatives as legitimate Youngkin supporters but later condemned the stunt amid backlash.
In addition, McAuliffe repeatedly exaggerated the state's COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers, and on Election Day eve he told a crowd of supporters Youngkin was "doing an event with Donald Trump here in Virginia." Trump was not in Virginia and never campaigned with Youngkin.
Republicans also presented voters with a historically diverse ticket. Winsome Sears ran to become Virginia's first female lieutenant governor and first woman of color elected to statewide office, while attorney general nominee Jason Miyares campaigned to be the first Latino elected statewide. Both Sears and Miyares led their Democratic opponents by roughly 9 points with 74 percent of the vote in.
Youngkin's once-incalculable victory will frighten Democrats going into 2022 as they look to maintain their slim hold on Congress. Biden's approval rating has plummeted both in Virginia and nationally. According to a Saturday NBC News poll, 7 in 10 adults believe the nation is "headed in the wrong direction."