FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Republican Winsome Sears, who returned to Virginia politics after an absence of nearly two decades, has become the first female lieutenant governor and the first woman of color to win statewide office in Virginia.

The Republican rocketed out of political obscurity to win the GOP nomination on the strength of a campaign photo in which she posed holding a military rifle.

A former Marine, Sears also highlighted her background as a Jamaican immigrant, campaigning against illegal immigration and rejecting the notion that the nation is plagued by systemic racism.

Sears had a brief stint in electoral politics 20 years ago as a one-term delegate in the General Assembly, representing parts of Hampton Roads. Her return to politics after a two-decade absence began when she served as national chairperson for Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump.

Sears defeated Democrat Hala Ayala in Tuesday’s election. Ayala also would have been the first female lieutenant governor and first woman of color to hold statewide office if she had won.

Sears will succeed Democrat Justin Fairfax, who unsuccessfully ran for governor. The marquee election Tuesday was the gubernatorial race, which Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin won, defeating former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Early Wednesday, Sears stood with her family in front of cheering supporters at a victory party in Chantilly, saying, “What you are looking at is the American Dream.”

For attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring was seeking a third term against Republican Jason Miyares, a delegate from Virginia Beach. Herring would be the first attorney general to win a third term since World War II. The race was still too early to call.

Miyares, the son of a Cuban immigrant, also declared victory early Wednesday, saying he is now the first Latino to be elected statewide in Virginia.

“I can’t wait to go to work with Governor Youngkin and Lieutenant Governor Sears for you,” Miyares said.

Herring had not conceded defeat early Wednesday morning.

Tuesday night, at a Republican party attended by both Youngkin and Sears, supporters were upbeat, singing, waving signs and starting to dance. While the watch party had yet to erupt in a victory celebration, there was enough volume and movement to make the floor of the second-floor ballroom shake occasionally.

Democrats, on the other hand, cleared out quickly from a joint party with statewide candidates after McAuliffe made an appearance and simply stated that votes still remained to be counted without claiming victory or conceding defeat.

Jurisdictions throughout the state reported high turnout, with roughly 3.3 million ballots tallied by 3 a.m. Wednesday. That greatly exceeded the 2.6 million ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election in 2017, which itself was a high turnout year. The turnout in 2017 was in part a backlash to Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Democrats swept all three statewide elections in 2017.

Republicans have struggled in Virginia over the past decade — Democrats have won every statewide election since 2009. But all three Republican candidates this year are threatening to break that streak.

Both the attorney general and the lieutenant governor posts have served as launching pads to the governor’s mansion. Half of the past 10 lieutenant governors in Virginia have gone on to be governor. The previous nine elected attorneys general all ran for governor.


Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Chantilly, Virginia, and Alexandra Jaffe in McLean, Virginia, contributed to this report.