Political newcomer Youngkin, former delegate Sears win Virginia GOP races

Gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin works the line of cars as the Virginia GOP holds a drive-thru primary to select candidates for the 2021 general election, Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Annandale, Va. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via AP)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer who campaigned as a conservative, Christian outsider, bested a field of seven candidates to emerge as Virginia Republicans’ nominee for governor, in a year when the GOP hopes to end a 12-year losing streak in statewide races.

Youngkin defeated state Sen. Amanda Chase, who closely aligned herself with former President Donald Trump, as well as an establishment candidate, former House Speaker Kirk Cox, who had more than 30 years’ experience in government as well as the endorsements of former governors George Allen and Bob McDonnell.

While Youngkin did not embrace Trump to the same extent as Chase, he spoke favorably of the former president during the campaign. He also made election integrity a top issue in his campaign.

In the sixth and final round of counting on Monday night, Youngkin passed the 50% threshold to clinch the nomination, and his closest remaining opponent, Pete Snynder, issued a tweet conceding: “I send my heartfelt congratulations to @glennyoungkin on a tremendous race + deserved win.”

The state party’s website showed Youngkin with around 55% of the vote as final ballots were being tallied late Monday night.

“I am prepared to lead, excited to serve and profoundly humbled by the trust the people have placed in me.,” Youngkin said on Twitter. “Virginians have made it clear that they are ready for a political outsider with proven business experience to bring real change in Richmond.”

The Virginia Republican Party celebrated Youngkin’s nomination, calling him a “homegrown Virginian” who had “nothing handed to him.”

“From his life experiences, Glenn has developed the skills and character to lead Virginia with humility and courage,” party officials said. “He has the know-how to get Virginia moving again and rebuild it into the best place to live, work, and raise a family in America.”

Party Chairman Rich Anderson said Youngkin ran a “flawless campaign,” adding that he looked forward to throwing “the full force of the Republican Party of Virginia behind him in the coming months.”

The state Democratic Party called Youngkin a “pro-Trump extremist.”

“Throughout this campaign, Youngkin has advanced Trump’s dangerous election conspiracy theories, opposed critical COVID-19 relief for working families and small businesses, and threatened to gut Virginians’ health care,” Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker said in a statement.

More than 30,000 delegates cast ballots at what the Republican Party of Virginia is called an “unassembled convention” to choose their nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

With no candidate garnering a majority after the first round, the winner was determined in part by whom delegates listed as their second and third choices among the seven candidates vying for the spot.

Under the ranked-choice voting system implemented by the party, the votes of the last-place candidate, former Roanoke Sheriff Octavia Johnson, were redistributed to the six remaining candidates based on whom those delegates designated as their second choice.

The process was repeated in subsequent rounds until Youngkin gained the majority.

Youngkin, a former CEO of The Carlyle Group investment firm, is making his first run for public office. He lent his campaign more than $5 million and spent more than any other candidate through March 31, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. He campaigned as a “conservative Christian outsider” and highlighted his business experience.

Democrats will choose their nominee next month in a state-run primary. Former governor Terry McAuliffe is the front-runner in a field of five candidates.

Virginia bars incumbent governors from seeking reelection, so Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is barred from seeking a second term this year.

Virginia is the only state with an open-seat gubernatorial contest this year; the race is being closely scrutinized as an early signal of each party’s political strength heading into the 2022 congressional elections.

Republicans have not won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009. But Republicans have some hope of ending their drought this year; since 1973, only once has the party controlling the White House gone on to win the governor’s race in Virginia the next year.

In the race for the lieutenant governor nomination, former Del. Winsome Sears, who 20 years ago became the first black Republican woman elected to the Virginia Assembly, made a political comeback to win the nomination.

Sears beat five other candidates, including two — former Del. Tim Hugo from Fairfax County and Virginia Beach Del. Glenn Davis — who were far more active in recent GOP politics.

“Winsome Sears is the strong, principled leader Virginia needs to serve as our next Lieutenant Governor. As a mother and a former Marine, she built her own successful small business,” said Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. R-James City, and his fellow Senate leaders in a joint statement Tuesday night. “Winsome made history when she was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Now, she is poised to make history again.”

Sears served a single term representing parts of Hampton Roads in the House of Delegates, winning election in 2001. She did not seek reelection and now resides in the Winchester area. She came to the U.S. from Jamaica as a child, and served in the Marines.

In her campaign, she highlighted her more recent work as national chairperson for Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump.

After a first round of ballots were counted Tuesday, Sears led with 32%, followed by Hugo with 23% and Davis at 20%. In the final round, Sears won with about 54% over Hugo.