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Why is the Virginia Governor Election Such a Big Deal?

All attention has been on Republican Glenn Youngkin winning the Virginia gubernatorial election over Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, McAuliffe and Youngkin were both vigorously campaigning for governor in Virginia, but the intent of their campaigns was very different.

How Did McAuliffe and Youngkin Campaign Differently?

McAuliffe encouraged Democrats to vote with the hope of preserving the party’s eight years of leadership in the state. He also focused on grouping Youngkin with former president Donald Trump, spending millions of dollars to emphasize the national significance of defeating the Republican party.

McAuliffe argued how Youngkin was merely a Trump follower, calling him “Glenn Trumpkin.” He also stressed on how a Democratic loss would potentially help Trump run for president in 2024.

“Trump wants to win here so he can be announced as president for 2024. That’s the stakes of this election. Are we going to allow that to go on?” said McAuliffe.

While Trump actively supported Youngkin, the governor tried not to devote too much attention or time to the former president. His goal was to appeal to moderate voters, but still gain the vote of Trump followers.

“You have to motivate the Trump base when he’s not on the ballot, but not alienate independents and disaffected Republicans that don’t like Trump. And it’s very hard to do,” said Jessica Taylor, a political analyst.

Youngkin focused on campaigning to suburban and rural voters, in areas with a high population density. His campaign mainly highlighted local issues, especially education to gain parents’ support. Two major issues part of Youngkin’s platform were banning teaching the critical race theory and lessening COVID-19 restrictions. 

Youngkin’s campaign gathered significant momentum as polls showed him dead locked with McAuliffe before the election. Republicans were enthusiastic in being able to win their first state race in Virginia in over a decade. In contrast, McAuliffe  focused on keeping Virginia blue and promoting national democratic policy. 

What Were the Election Results?

Both candidates stressed the importance of voting early, resulting in more than 1.1 million Virginians casting or mailing their ballots early, according to the commonwealth’s Department of Elections. The voter turnout was higher than any other gubernatorial election in Virginia since 1997.

Youngkin was declared winner with 50.6% or 1,663,596 votes compared to McAuliffe with 48.7 or 1,600,116 votes. Youngkin winning the election only a year after Biden carried Virginia over Trump by 10 points has inflated the Republican party’s spirits and casted doubts on Democrat’s agenda in Virginia as well as Washington.

Youngkin was able to defeat McAuliffe through the support of political independents, negative ratings of Biden and voters focused on the economy and education, according to Virginia exit poll results. 

Independents had the most voting power to swing the race as Democratic and Republican Virginians overwhelmingly voted for their respective parties. Exit polls showed Independents favored Youngkin by 54%, much different from the 2020 presidential election when Biden won the independent vote by 19 points.

What Does Youngkin Winning Mean?

The Virginia governor’s race is an indicator of both parties’ status and welfare as it is a year in between the presidential race and midterm elections. Youngkin’s victory has incited fear among the Democratic party  surrounding Congressional seats up for grabs in next year’s midterm elections. The Virginia Senate is now barely a Democratic majority with 21-19. Many debated uncategorizing Virgina as a swing state after it remained a Democratic stronghold in recent elections, but this race proved that is certainly not the case. Youngkin’s win  is exciting for Republicans and alarming for Democrats.

The Democratic party losing the governor election reflects issues and dissatisfaction citizens have towards the party and Biden administration. The party may potentially shift and strengthen their alignment on issues to gain more trust and support with their followers. 

For the Republican party, the Virginia gubernatorial election has shown it is possible to hold a unique platform like Youngkin’s in order to appeal to moderates, Independents and Trump followers. 

Youngkin will begin his plan to lessen Democrats’ “left, liberal, progressive agenda” when he takes office in January. The governor campaigned a Day One game plan, including tax cuts, 12-month suspension of gas tax, increasing funding for law enforcement, raising teacher pay, opening charter schools, requiring photo ID to vote and banning critical race theory. This is just the beginning to see how the political parties will change in the next year. 

Youngkin thanked those who supported him, saying he values their input. “We have a lot of fresh faces engaged in this because this is a time for new ideas, not recycled ones, and so I’m so excited about the involvement across the Commonwealth to get moving.”

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Faith Chung

American '24

Faith is a sophomore at American University majoring in Communication Studies. She is passionate about writing to spread awareness concerning issues of injustice. Faith is currently a Contributing Writer for HCAU and lives in DC.
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