RICHMOND, Va. – 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.
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.