RICHMOND, Va. (NewsNation Now) — Republican Glenn Youngkin may be on the verge of what would have been considered an upset win earlier this year.
Youngkin leads former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe by five points with more than 90% of the vote counted in the race for the commonwealth’s next governor. The race that could prove to be a referendum on President Joe Biden’s first year in office.
“We’ve got a lot of votes to count,” McAuliffe told his supporters just after 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Youngkin has yet to speak.
The early results were a stark departure from 12 months ago, when Biden captured the state by 10 points. Instead, McAuliffe, a prominent figure in Democratic politics and a former Virginia governor, was straining in a close race with former business executive Youngkin as he tried to reclaim the post.
The race is important enough for Democrats that Biden and former President Barack Obama visited the state to campaign for McAuliffe, 64, in its final weeks. Virginia has elected just one Republican governor in the last two decades, and Democrats currently also control both houses of the state legislature.
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If McAuliffe wins, he would retake the seat he held from 2014 through 2018. The state’s laws forbid governors from serving consecutive terms.
Biden carried Virginia comfortably last year, but Youngkin’s campaign is optimistic about his prospects of becoming the first Republican to win a statewide election since 2009.
If Youngkin, the former private equity executive, wins on Tuesday, his approach of rallying parents angry about the way schools have handled COVID-19 and the handling of racism in teaching American history may serve as a model for Republicans around the country looking to unseat Democrats in next year’s high-stakes congressional elections.
While McAuliffe has brought in a series of high-profile surrogates in the final stretch, Youngkin has eschewed virtually all public campaign visits from well-known party allies who would typically flock to a hot race.
That includes former President Donald Trump, who held a tele-rally for Youngkin Monday. Youngkin more fully embraced Trump during the Republican nominating contest, but since becoming the nominee, he has walked a fine line as he tries to court moderate voters in a state that Trump lost decisively to Biden in 2020.
Over 1.1 million out of the state’s approximately 5.9 million registered voters cast a ballot early this year, according to state data published by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. That’s down sharply from the 2.8 million early votes in last year’s presidential election but marks a dramatic increase compared to the mere 195,634 early votes during the last gubernatorial cycle, before voting reforms passed by the state’s Democrat-led General Assembly aimed at increasing access to the polls were instituted.