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McAuliffe captures Democratic nomination for Virginia governor

The race is expected to be an early test of the nation's political climate a year after the tumultuous presidential election.
Image: Terry McAuliffe Campaigns For Second Bid As Virginia Governor
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters while campaigning in Charlottesville on Friday.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe overwhelmingly won the Democratic nomination to return to his old job Tuesday, setting up a general election in November with Republican Glenn Youngkin.

His competitors were Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, state Del. Lee Carter, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy.

McAuliffe won about 62 percent of the vote with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the state Board of Elections.

McAuliffe's victory sets the stage for a fall campaign that will be closely watched by both political parties. As one of the few major statewide elections this year, it will be an early test of the nation's political climate a year after the tumultuous presidential race and a year ahead of the crucial midterm congressional elections.

President Joe Biden won 54 percent of the vote in Virginia last year, easily defeating President Donald Trump, who got 44 percent in a state that was once highly competitive but where the Democrats' advantage grew during the Trump era.

Trump quickly endorsed Youngkin, a former private equity executive, last month after he was nominated from a seven-candidate field through a party convention, an endorsement the Virginia Democratic Party has used to try to tie Youngkin tightly to the former president.

Virginia selects a new governor one year after every presidential election. The state prohibits the winner from serving consecutive terms. Except for McAuliffe's victory 2013, in Democrat Barack Obama's second term as president, voters in recent history have bucked national trends, favoring gubernatorial candidates from the party that doesn't hold the White House.

McAuliffe, a well-wired former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and friend to Bill and Hillary Clinton, leaned heavily on his previous term as governor during the primaries. His name recognition and fundraising talents made him the obvious front-runner after he entered the race in December.

But his victory was also a blow to some Democratic activists' hopes of electing McClellan or Carroll Foy as the country's first Black female governor.

McClellan, a seasoned state lawmaker, presented herself as a candidate who could rival McAuliffe's experience and make history in the process. Carroll Foy, bearing endorsements from Democracy for America and the Working Families Party, was friendlier with the progressive left.

Organizations dedicated to electing women and women of color initially supported both, reluctant to pick a favorite. Carroll Foy ultimately won an endorsement from one of the groups, the Higher Heights for America PAC.

Youngkin welcomed McAuliffe to the general election race in a statement Tuesday, saying he looks "forward to presenting our competing ideas for Virginia's future" while also excoriating McAuliffe.

"I'm confident that voters will not choose a recycled, 40-year political insider and career politician who pretends to be a businessman, who talks big but doesn't deliver, and who failed Virginians the first time he was governor," Youngkin said.

Any concerns that McAuliffe stood in the way of history — he launched his bid after Carroll Foy and McClellan had been running for months — did not register enough to derail his campaign. His rivals tried in debates to press a need for new leadership, but the most memorable moment from any of the four forums was probably at the first, where Fairfax accused fellow Democrats of treating him like George Floyd and Emmett Till when they called on him to resign after two women accused him of sexual assault in 2019.

McAuliffe kept most of his focus on the Republicans, and since Youngkin's convention win, he had used his public appearances to criticize Youngkin, not his Democratic opponents.