RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Terry McAuliffe, a longtime fixture of Democratic politics, handily won his party’s nomination for Virginia governor in his quest for a second term, setting up what’s expected to be a hotly contested general election against a wealthy businessman and political newcomer, GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, McAuliffe made the case that Youngkin is too conservative for a state that’s long been trending blue.
“Let me be crystal clear: Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican,” said McAuliffe, who defeated four challengers to win the primary.
Youngkin shot back, describing Virginia as a state that over the past two Democratic governorships has gotten less safe, more expensive and has not offered enough economic opportunities.
“We need a new kind of leader to bring a new day to Virginia,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Get ready, because Terry McAuliffe will default to the same political games he’s played his entire life.”
A longtime Democratic Party fundraiser and a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe held office from 2014 to 2018. Like all Virginia governors, he was prohibited from seeking a consecutive term. He jumped into the race in December after deciding in 2019 against a run for president.
Virginia is the only state in the nation with an open race for governor this year, and the contest is expected to draw outsized national attention as a barometer of voter sentiment in each party heading into the midterm elections.
The race has also taken on heightened importance as a referendum on the sweeping changes Virginia Democrats have implemented since assuming full control of the state government in 2020. They have pushed through gun control and police reform, marijuana legalization and a higher minimum wage, transforming what was once a reliably red state.
“We are a different state than we were eight years ago, and we are not going back,” McAuliffe said in his speech.
McAuliffe, 64, focused his campaign on the need for bold action to address Virginia’s lagging teacher pay and inequities in education funding. He’s also pledged to work to accelerate Virginia’s minimum wage increase to $15 by 2024, protect abortion access, and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
He earned the endorsement of Gov. Ralph Northam, who said McAuliffe was best suited to lead Virginia’s economic recovery from the pandemic and cement the transformational changes Democrats have implemented.
McAuliffe also raised far more money than the other candidates: state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter. From the jump, he had the backing of a substantial number of elected officials across the commonwealth, including many powerful Black lawmakers.
“I liked what he’s done and believe he can do what he’s promised. And I think he can win,” said Joe Glaze, a 70-year-old retired clergy member who voted for McAuliffe Tuesday afternoon in Richmond. “That’s the main thing: I want someone who will win and beat Youngkin.”
Some more progressive voters criticized McAuliffe’s record on energy and criminal justice issues, and saw him as standing in the way of Carroll Foy and McClellan, who were each trying to become the nation’s first Black woman governor.
Either also would have been Virginia’s first female governor. The commonwealth has elected only one woman in its history to a statewide position and never to its highest office.
Both issued statements congratulating McAuliffe Tuesday night.
“Let’s get in the trenches. Let’s do the work because at the end of the day, we must win in November,” Carroll Foy said.
Del. Hala Ayala won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor Tuesday, all but ensuring that Virginia will soon elect its first female lieutenant governor — her Republican opponent is Winsome Sears, the first Black woman to receive a major party’s endorsement for statewide office.
Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring meanwhile secured his party’s nomination for a third term, staving off a strong challenge from Del. Jay Jones, who sought to cast Herring as insufficiently progressive. Herring will face Republican state Del. Jason Miyares in November.
Republicans picked their nominees for this year’s statewide races in a multisite convention process in May. Youngkin, a former executive at an investment fund with no voting record to be scrutinized, has pledged to use his personal wealth to power his campaign.
Bobbi Andrews, 85, said she voted for McAuliffe based on his past record as governor and, in part, because of his stance on education. But she said she’s voted for Republicans before and considers Youngkin a strong candidate.
“I’m glad to see a strong Republican running because we need two parties,” Andrews said. “If we don’t have two parties, neither one of them will be honest.”
Associated Press writer Ben Finley contributed to this report from Norfolk and Virginia Beach.