Virginia’s state elections on November 2nd resulted in a red wave washing over the Commonwealth. Democrats have enjoyed control of all three executive offices and both houses of the General Assembly since 2019 and no Republican had won a statewide race since 2009. After polls closed, Republicans had gained the governor’s, lieutenant governor's, and attorney general’s offices, and won at least 50 seats in the House of Delegates. A few races have yet to be called in the House, but Democrats have lost outright control of the House nonetheless. No Senate seats were up for election last Tuesday.
Virginia voters cast approximately 3.3 million ballots in the gubernatorial race, the highest turnout since at least 1997. About 55% of the Virginia electorate turned in early ballots or voted on election day. Former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe had a lead in early voting, mail-in ballots, and provisional ballots, but Republican Glenn Youngkin was able to mobilize his base on election day to swing the election in his favor.
Youngkin, a businessman and first-time politician, won the governor’s office with 50.6% of the vote, defeating McAuliffe (48.7%) and the Liberation Party candidate, Princess Blanding (0.7%). His victory broke the Democrats’ short winning streak for the office since 2014 and fell in line with the typical pattern of the Virginia governor’s office going to a member of the party opposite the incumbent president.
Youngkin’s victory sets the stage for many policy changes in the Commonwealth, as well as in future elections. His ambitious “Day One” agenda includes decreasing taxes, protecting qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, firing the parole board, bolstering small businesses, banning critical race theory in public K-12 schools, and restoring voter ID laws. Youngkin’s views on abortion remain vague. He has said he won’t support a Texas-style abortion bill, but he supports “fetal pain” legislation with exceptions for rape, incest, and when a mother’s life is at risk. Ultimately, he describes himself as pro-life. He campaigned on a message of revitalizing Virginia after Democrat leadership left Virginia behind in education, pandemic recovery, and crime.
Youngkin’s victory shows there may be a path to victory in elections without Donald Trump. While Youngkin received Trump’s endorsement many times on the campaign trail, he also distanced himself from the former president. In fact, Trump didn’t even campaign in Virginia. McAuliffe’s focus on trying to prove that Youngkin was a Trump successor was unsuccessful, showing that Democrats need to distance themselves from the former president as well. Trump is becoming obsolete in the American political sphere, and the Virginia election has helped to showcase that.
Youngkin has a staunchly conservative agenda that is sure to change Virginia policy and politics in the next four years, and he will have the support of the other two executive offices in his policy endeavors. However, it is important to note that he will likely have to make concessions on many of his policy goals due to Democrats still holding control of the Senate, 21-19. All eyes will be on the House and Senate elections in 2023 to see how Virginians favor Youngkin’s first two years in office as well as if he will end up with a fully unified or harshly divided government for his latter two years.
Republican Winsome Sears, former Virginia delegate and veteran of the United States Marine Corps, made history by becoming the Commonwealth’s first woman and first woman of color to win the office of lieutenant governor. She defeated Del. Hala Ayala 50.8% to 49.2%. Sears is very conservative, opposing critical race theory and vaccine and mask mandates and supporting gun rights while maintaining focus on gun safety. She has not been clear about her stance on removing Confederate monuments in the Commonwealth. She opposes abortion, citing her Christian faith. Sears has also said that too many political issues are framed around race, and explained that this “continues to divide us.”
Sears’ conservative views will surely dictate her policy decisions over the next four years and will operate parallel to Youngkin’s. Her possible tie-breaking vote in the Senate will also likely come into play in Virginia’s divided Senate and potentially divided General Assembly.
Sears’ election is historic, and her tenure as lieutenant governor is likely to lead to larger achievements in Virginia and beyond. The lieutenant governor’s office is often a stepping-off point to the governor’s office, as 5 of the past 10 lieutenant governors went on to become governor. Keep an eye out on Sears’ work in the next four years, and see if you’ll spot her name on the ticket for governor in 2025.
Republican Del. Jason Miyares won the attorney general’s office, defeating incumbent Mark Herring, who has held the office since 2014, 50.4% to 49.6%. He will be the first Latino attorney general in the Commonwealth. He plans on reversing much of Herring’s work, saying he will be stricter on crime, support police, push for “common sense” in voting laws, and examine the constitutionality of laws passed by Democrats in recent years. He also says he will investigate the parole board, similar to Youngkin, due to their release of several violent offenders, which he said has failed victims. Finally, he plans to push for a bill in the General Assembly that will allow the attorney general to prosecute child sex offenses when county prosecutors do not act.
Miyares has big plans for criminal justice in the Commonwealth, many of which could reverse progress made by Democrats over the past several years. Look out for his name on a statewide ticket in four years as well, as many former attorneys general in Virginia have run for the governor’s office and won.
House of Delegates
Along with a red wave sweeping over Virginia in the statewide offices, the House of Delegates has also swung right. While Democrats have held control of the House 55-45 since 2019, the count currently stands at 50-48, with two races still undecided. Every incumbent Republican won reelection, and five seats flipped in the GOP’s favor. Garren Shipley, spokesman for House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, said he is confident “that there will be 52 Republicans seated when the House convenes in January.” Democrats, including current Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, have stressed that several races have yet to be decided before either side can declare victory.
Many people saw these House races as a referendum on some of the General Assembly’s progressive policies that were enacted in the past two years, namely abolishing the death penalty, legalizing marijuana, reducing abortion restrictions, and reforming police policy. Virginians have spoken in these elections, and have shown that they are displeased with the work the House has done since 2019. With GOP control in the House, or with a possible 50-50 split, the Commonwealth is sure to see more conservative policy coming out of the General Assembly.
Confederate Monument Referenda
Local referenda happen across Virginia often, and most are very focused on very individual issues in a respective locality. In recent years, Confederate monuments have appeared on the ballot in counties across the Commonwealth. Six localities had referenda on the ballot in 2020, and three took place this election cycle. Time and time again, however, they are unsuccessful and show that voters oppose the removal of such monuments. Nottoway County, Mathews County, and Middlesex County held non-binding, advisory referenda on November 2nd, asking voters if they opposed or supported the removal of monuments in their respective counties. The results will inform policymakers on what to do in the future.
Mathews and Middlesex voters voted overwhelmingly in support of keeping the monuments as they are, with 75% or more of voters in support in both. Nottoway voters were only slightly behind, with about 67% in support of keeping the monument as is. These results fall in line with a trend that has been seen in Virginia counties in recent years, where these monuments’ fates are put on the ballot and voters choose to keep them as they stand. This contrasts with the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, which was removed earlier this year. In the case of the Lee statue, the Supreme Court of Virginia voted to bring it down. It seems that for the near future, the only way to bring the monuments down will be statewide legislation or decisions by the Supreme Court.
All in all, Virginia is sure to see far more conservative policies than it has seen in the past two years while Democrats held control. However, with one house of the General Assembly still under Democratic control, there may be some hold-ups to conservative policies and concessions that need to be made. Virginia has shown that electoral victory without Donald Trump is possible, and we may see his presence phased out even more in coming elections. Keep an eye on Virginia’s House and Senate races in 2023, which will be a referendum on Youngkin’s, Sears’, Miyares’, and the House’s performance for the next two years. Additionally, the 2022 midterms could swing red as was just seen in the Commonwealth as people have become dissatisfied with Democrat control and policy.
If you were upset with these election results, make your voice heard. If you were happy with these election results, make your voice heard. A democracy that operates of, by, and for the people requires feedback from the people. Know who your legislators are, contact them, and advocate for what you believe in. Register to vote and vote in upcoming elections in Virginia in 2023 and 2025, in the 2022 midterms, and beyond. One election cycle is not the end-all, be-all for the next two years. You have the power to help make change in Virginia.
The views expressed above are solely the author's and are not endorsed by the Virginia Policy Review, The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, or the University of Virginia. Although this organization has members who are University of Virginia students and may have University employees associated or engaged in its activities and affairs, the organization is not a part of or an agency of the University. It is a separate and independent organization which is responsible for and manages its own activities and affairs. The University does not direct, supervise or control the organization and is not responsible for the organization’s contracts, acts, or omissions.