Terry McAuliffe, the energetic former Virginia governor and longtime fixture of Democratic politics, won the party’s nomination Tuesday in his quest for a second term in office.
McAuliffe will go on to face GOP nominee and political newcomer Glenn Youngkin in the November general election, when Republicans will be looking to break their more than decade-long losing streak in statewide races.
“Folks, we launched this campaign about six months ago on the simple idea that Virginia has some very big challenges ahead," McAuliffe said in a speech Tuesday night. “And I've said, we've got to go big, we've got to be bold, and we need seasoned leadership to move us forward and to lift up all Virginians."
Virginia is the only state in the nation with an open race for governor this year, and the contest is expected to be closely watched as a barometer of voter sentiment in each party heading into the midterm elections.
The race has also 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 and police reform to marijuana legalization and a higher minimum wage, transforming what was once a reliably red state into an outlier in the South.
“We are a different state than we were eight years ago, and we are not going back," McAuliffe said.
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.
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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 out of the economic recovery from the pandemic and cement the transformational changes Democrats have implemented since taking full control of state government in the 2019 elections.
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.”
McAuliffe drew criticism from some more progressive voters who criticized his record on energy and criminal justice issues and who 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 would have also 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.
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 in his bid 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.
In a statement, Youngkin described 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. “Get ready, because Terry McAuliffe will default to the same political games he’s played his entire life.”
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.