RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Terry McAuliffe outperformed his own campaign’s expectations, winning every city and county as he coasted to victory in the Democratic primary for Virginia governor, an election his party said showed persistent enthusiasm among its voters even in a post-Trump era.
Some Democrats had fretted that voters wouldn’t turn out with McAuliffe, an establishment quasi-incumbent, as the frontrunner in the race and with Donald Trump out of office following a term that was disastrous for Virginia Republicans. But an unofficial accounting suggested that wasn’t the case.
While the counting of absentee ballots was still underway, preliminary numbers showed turnout was roughly 90% of 2017′s figures, in a contest seen as less competitive than the matchup four years ago between now-Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello.
“I think a very good roadmap and route has been laid for November,” said Democratic Party of Virginia Chair Susan Swecker, who called Tuesday’s turnout “robust.”
McAuliffe, who was previously in office from 2014 to 2018, won about 62% of the vote and will go on to face political newcomer Glenn Youngkin in what’s expected to be a competitive and expensive general election.
McAuliffe spokesperson Jake Rubenstein said Tuesday’s results, which he characterized as stronger than the campaign had expected, should be a “big wake-up call” for Youngkin.
“Virginians are fired up and unified behind Terry to stop Glenn from doing to Virginia what Donald Trump did to America,” Rubenstein said.
In a statement Tuesday night that called McAuliffe a “a recycled, 40-year political insider and career politician,” Youngkin, a wealthy former executive of global investment firm The Carlyle Group, said Virginians from across the political spectrum want new leadership.
His campaign released two new ads after McAuliffe’s win, including one titled, “Time for Change.” The 30-second spot, a highlight reel of primary opponent Jennifer Carroll Foy’s sharpest criticism of McAuliffe, cuts to Youngkin, who says: “A new kind of leader to bring a new day to Virginia.”
Carroll Foy has since vowed to “get in the trenches” to help McAuliffe get elected.
Preliminary returns showed about 487,000 votes were cast for governor in Tuesday’s primary, compared with about 543,000 in 2017. Despite facing four opponents, McAuliffe took in over 300,000 votes, right in line with Northam in 2017. More votes were also cast this year than in the previous contested Democratic gubernatorial primary, in 2009, according to records maintained by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
No one else in the field that also included state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax or Del. Lee Carter was the top vote-getter in a single locality. And in just a handful of localities did McAuliffe receive less than 50% of votes cast.
BELOW: McAuliffe speaks after winning Democratic nomination Tuesday.
In a statement, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson said the GOP was pleased to see McAuliffe, “a career politician with a record of broken promises,” win the primary.
Anderson also contrasted the Democrats’ all-Northern Virginia ticket and the GOP’s racially and geographically diverse slate, which was settled at a multisite convention in May.
Incumbent Mark Herring won the Democratic nomination in the race for attorney general Tuesday, fending off a strong challenge from a younger state lawmaker, Del. Jay Jones. Herring, who is seeking a third term, will face Republican state Del. Jason Miyares of Virginia Beach in the November general election. His win means two-thirds of the Democrats’ ticket will be a repeat from 2013.
Del. Hala Ayala, who launched her political career in 2017 in response to Trump’s election, won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, boosted by an endorsement from Northam and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. Ayala will compete against GOP nominee Winsome Sears, who resides in the Winchester area, virtually guaranteeing Virginia will see history made with its first woman elected to that role.
Virginia, the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow its chief executive to serve consecutive terms, is also the only state with an open race for governor this year. The commonwealth’s rare off-year elections routinely draw outsized national attention as a possible test of both parties’ strengths ahead of the midterms.
Tuesday’s primary election followed a congressional race last week in New Mexico in which Democrats also claimed momentum was on their side.
Democrat Melanie Stansbury won a four-way race to fill a vacant seat previously held by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Uncertified results showed a margin of victory far greater than Haaland’s win in 2020 and even greater than Biden’s 23-point win in New Mexico last year.
New Jersey, the only other state with a regularly scheduled gubernatorial election this year, also held its primary Tuesday. Preliminary, unofficial numbers showed Democratic turnout was down compared with four years ago from about 25% to roughly 13%, but this year’s contest was uncontested. In 2017, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy won a six-way contest that boosted turnout.
Republicans in New Jersey saw turnout climb slightly this year, according to preliminary, unofficial results, from 20% to 25%. The GOP contest four years ago was a five-way contest, compared with four candidates this year.
Associated Press writer Mike Catalini contributed from Trenton, New Jersey.
Here are statements released by groups and officials on McAuliffe’s primary victory:
“Tonight’s results reaffirm Virginia voters’ commitment to gun violence prevention. In 2013, Terry McAuliffe proudly touted his ‘F’ rating from the NRA in his successful first gubernatorial run. By running and winning on a platform of gun violence prevention, he changed the political calculus and empowered campaigns across Virginia to emulate his winning gun violence prevention stance. As a result, Virginians elected a gun violence prevention majority to the General Assembly, and Virginia has now enacted some of the strongest gun safety laws in the country over the past two years.
“Now is not the time to go back. Virginia cannot afford to elect Glenn Youngkin and his outdated and harmful stance on gun violence. His willingness to say anything for a vote is deeply troubling, as we’ve already seen him cozying up to those with deep ties to those at the forefront of the insurrectionist movement, like Senator Amanda Chase and the domestic terror organization, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Youngkin’s base of support stems from those who promoted the ‘Big Lie,’ stormed the U.S. Capitol and attacked our nation. That is disqualifying. Plain and simple.
“Terry McAuliffe has the knowledge and experience to build on Virginia’s gun violence prevention successes and make the Commonwealth a better, safer, and more equitable place for all Virginians. The stakes are too high, and we cannot risk the consequences of electing a governor who caters to insurrectionists and a ‘guns everywhere’ agenda at the cost to the safety and welfare of everyday Virginians. The choice is clear: Terry McAuliffe must be the next governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”Lori Haas, Virginia state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
“The contrast between career politician and establishment insider Terry McAuliffe and successful businessman and political outsider Glenn Youngkin is stark. The stench of corruption follows McAuliffe wherever he goes, and voters across the Commonwealth are looking for fresh leadership after nearly a decade of failures from the McAuliffe-Northam regime. The RGA looks forward to exposing Terry McAuliffe’s litany of broken promises and misdeeds between now and November.”Republican Governors Association Executive Director Dave Rexrode
“I’d like to congratulate Terry McAuliffe on his victory tonight. I am here to support him as the Democratic nominee for Governor every step of the way as we work towards November.
“Although tonight did not go the way we wanted it to, we made history. Like Maggie Walker and Shirley Chisholm before me, we put more cracks in the glass ceiling that one day a Black woman will shatter. And I hope I have inspired her to find her voice and demand her seat at the head of the table.
“We built a grassroots, people-powered movement that centered the voices and perspectives of so many people who have been excluded from the process. We outlined policies and issues that had been ignored for too long and put them front-and-center in our campaign for governor. We inspired many to believe in the power of state government to solve their problems and improve their communities. And I will continue to champion these issues in the Senate of Virginia and bring the policy making table out into all communities, as we work together to rebuild a stronger, more united, and more equitable Virginia.
“I’m proud to have run a campaign that focused on implementing universal child care in Virginia, fully funding our education system, transforming our justice system, and equitably rebuilding our economic and health care safety nets. Those issues are now on the table because of the work and the strength of our grassroots movement, and I’m looking forward to advancing these issues forward with Terry through the general election—and in the General Assembly next year.
“Virginians have a clear choice this November between progress and the past. This election is about whether Virginia will lead forward on our path of progress, or whether we turn backwards. We’ve come so far on voting rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, health care, education and an inclusive economy—we cannot afford to let Glenn Youngkin turn back the clock. I know that Terry will lead the Democratic Party of Virginia forward with a fierce determination and a commitment to building a brighter future for our Commonwealth.
“I’m proud of this campaign, and of my 30 years building the Democratic Party of Virginia. And I look forward to working to elect Terry and the Democratic ticket this November and to continuing our progress next legislative session. Let’s get to work!”Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), candidate for governor