McLEAN, Va. — Terry McAuliffe’s comeback bid aced its first test Tuesday, as the former Virginia governor cruised to victory in the state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.
He easily defeated his two main rivals, former state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, capturing about 60 percent of the vote in a five-candidate race in which he was the wire-to-wire favorite since entering last December.
His victory sets up a matchup with Glenn Youngkin, the former Carlyle Group chief executive who won the Republican nomination in a party convention about a month ago.
The November face-off will be the first major election during President Joe Biden’s tenure in the White House — and a measure of how damaging now-former President Donald Trump was to the state Republican Party here, which had been ransacked during Trump’s four years in office.
During his victory speech, McAuliffe leaned into his and outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam’s overlapping tenures in Richmond. “We are a different state than when we were eight years ago, and we are not going back,” he said.
McAuliffe’s blowout victory capped off a disappointing primary for some progressives in the state, who lined up behind Carroll Foy and McClellan, the two Black women in the race. The field also included current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and state Del. Lee Carter, though neither was reaching 5 percent of the vote during Tuesday night’s tally.
Both Carroll Foy and McClellan quickly endorsed McAuliffe.
Some Democrats in the state fretted about apparent low turnout in the primary — “there’s more cicadas than there are voters,” one aide on a gubernatorial campaign quipped — although that comes with the caveat that this was the first election under new state laws that provided for a month and a half of early voting.
For his part, McAuliffe projected confidence in the closing days of the primary, barnstorming the state with supporters and posting videos of him dancing to Twitter. He had already turned much of his attention toward Youngkin, calling him an “extremist” and focusing on him in fundraising emails to supporters (two recent subject lines: “Everyone is watching” and “We’re already behind”).
McAuliffe spent the latter part of his victory speech — given at a hotel ballroom here, in front of a mostly maskless crowd of a few hundred supporters — attacking Youngkin.
“Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican,” he said, lambasting him on his positions regarding abortion and gun control. McAuliffe highlighted Trump’s endorsement of Youngkin and also joked about Youngkin’s ties to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Virginia has long been a political bellwether in new presidential administrations, frequently swinging against the party that won the previous year. But during Trump’s tenure in the White House, the state swiftly abandoned Republicans. It started when now-Gov. Ralph Northam crushed Republican Ed Gillespie in the 2017 gubernatorial contest, well overperforming expectations at the time, and never really letting up.
Youngkin greeted McAuliffe’s primary victory with a pair of new ads attacking him that are set to start airing on Wednesday. One of the ads uses footage of Carroll Foy attacking McAuliffe during the primary — the spot opens with her saying “Terry McAuliffe is not inspiring” — while the other one has Youngkin talking about changing the direction of Richmond, but does not mention McAuliffe by name.
In the 2018 midterms, Democrats unseated a trio of GOP members of Congress, while Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine crushed a Trump-aligned challenger. And Democrats flipped the state legislature in 2019, giving them complete control of Richmond for the first time in decades.
Republicans have argued that 2021 will be different, banking on a fired-up base in rural parts of the state, and Youngkin being able to claw back suburban support that skittered away from the party over the last four years. Youngkin has also poured about $12 million of his personal fortune into his campaign thus far, giving him resources to compete with the famously prodigious fundraiser in McAuliffe, should he win.
Youngkin has also poured about $12 million of his personal fortune into his campaign thus far, giving him resources to compete with the famously prodigious fundraiser in McAuliffe — something the former governor highlighted in his speech.
“There are 75 million reasons that Glenn Youngkin could win,” he said, a reference to his opponent’s wealth, urging his supporters to “give money every single day.”
Down the ballot in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, state Attorney General Mark Herring beat back a primary challenge from state Del. Jay Jones, two years after a blackface scandal scuttled Herring’s ambitions to run for governor and could have ended his political career. Herring will face GOP nominee Jason Miyares, a state delegate.
In the race for lieutenant governor, state Del. Hala Ayala won the Democratic nomination. Ayala will face former GOP state Del. Winsome Sears — either will become the first woman of color to serve in statewide office in Virginia. The seat is open, with Fairfax — who has denied allegations of sexual assault that derailed his gubernatorial campaign — seeking higher office.
Further up the East Coast, New Jersey Republicans picked their nominee to face Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who faced only token write-in opposition in his own primary. Businessman Jack Ciattarelli defeated two avowed Trump supporters in perennial candidate Hirsh Singh and Baptist minister Phil Rizzo.
A recent poll from the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University found Murphy leading Ciattarelli, 52 percent to 26 percent, in a theoretical head-to-head.