Republican Winsome Sears is the projected winner of the race for Virginia's next lieutenant governor, becoming the first woman as well as the first woman of color to serve in the post that has been held by men for more than 200 years, the entirety of the state's history.
Sears is a former Marine who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica as a girl and vaulted to victory in a crowded primary on the enthusiasm generated by a campaign photo of her posing with a military rifle.
She joins fellow Republican Glenn Youngkin, the projected winner in the governor's race, in helping the party flip the state back to red following Democratic rule for the past two terms.
Get D.C. area news, weather forecasts and lifestyle content to your inbox. Signup for NBC Washington newsletters.
Winsome 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 won the nomination by beating 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.
During the primary, Sears ridiculed mask mandates put in place by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, posting a video in which she pulled a mask off a cardboard cutout of Northam and stomped it into the sand, with the Virginia Beach boardwalk in the background.
Sears may be the most unconventional candidate on the statewide ballot this year. She speaks in a stream-of-consciousness style and loves to tell the story of her first campaign for office, when someone superimposed her face onto a pornographic photo.
“I looked good!" she joked to a crowd.
But the story is emblematic, she says, of the obstacles she faced as a Black Republican who was taking on an establishment that expects Blacks to vote Democratic.
“The other side wants to use the problems of the past to define us and we shouldn't let them,” she told a crowd in rural Chesterfield County in October. “It is time for them to find another victim. ... Yes, we know that there are problems, but we can fix them.”
When she served in the legislature, she earned top ratings from anti-abortion and gun-rights organizations. She touted that record in her successful primary campaign, but revised her website during the general election to remove those references.
The position of lieutenant governor frequently serves as a launching pad to the governor’s mansion. Half of the past 10 lieutenant governors went on to become governor.