Voters on Tuesday will decide the Democratic nominee in this year’s closely watched race for Virginia governor, whittling down a five-person field in which former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is widely viewed as having a commanding lead.
McAuliffe, a longtime Democratic Party fundraiser who previously held office from 2014-2018, is seeking a rare return to the governor’s mansion in the only state that prohibits its chief executive from serving consecutive terms.
The race in Virginia has taken on heightened importance as Democrats aim to hold onto power after assuming full control of state government in 2020. Since then they have pushed through sweeping changes, from gun control to police reform to marijuana legalization to an increase in the minimum wage, transforming what was once a reliably red state into an outlier in the South.
Among McAuliffe’s opponents are state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, both running for what could be history-making bids to become the nation’s first Black woman governor. They would also be Virginia’s first female governor of any race.
The other two candidates are Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter, a self-identified socialist.
Only Virginia and New Jersey have regularly scheduled governor’s races this year, with Virginia’s considered the more competitive of the two. The unusual off-year elections typically draw outsized attention as a possible bellwether for national trends heading into next year’s midterms.
The winner of Tuesday’s race will face the GOP nominee, Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer who won that party’s bitter, competitive nomination contest in a May convention. Republicans appear energized by the idea of Youngkin — a wealthy former executive at an investment fund with no voting record to be scrutinized — atop a racially diverse ticket as they seek to break a more than decade-long GOP losing streak in statewide races.
The GOP is hopeful one-party control in Washington will help their chances, especially given a long-running trend of Virginia voters tending to pick governors from the opposite party of the sitting president.
Voters will also choose the Democratic Party’s nominees for attorney general and lieutenant governor.