Both parties split the two major gubernatorial races on Tuesday in surprisingly tightly contested races in two blue states.
Former private equity executive Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who largely self-funded his campaign, scored an upset victory over Democratic challenger Terry McAullife, who previously served a single term as the state’s governor.
Youngkin, who trailed in most polls leading up the election, edged out McAullife 51-48.
Fellow Republican Winsome Sears also defeated Democrat Hala Ayala 51-49 to be the state’s next lieutenant governor.
And Republican rising star Jason Mirayes scored a similarly narrow win over incumbent Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring to complete the Republican sweep.
Republicans are projected to win at least 50 state legislative seats. There are several races still too tight to call but Republicans are now guaranteed to have at least as many members in the state House as Democrats.
Dems eke out a win in NJ:
While Virginia has been trending blue for years, Democrats were surprised to see a very tight race in deep-blue New Jersey.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is projected to win the race. He currently leads Republican Jack Ciattarelli by just over a half-percentage point.
Every poll leading up to the election showed Murphy with a sizeable lead but Ciattarelli’s campaign launched a barrage of ads in the final stretch attacking the governor over his strict Covid policies and high taxes.
Ciattarelli complained that it was “irresponsible” to name Murphy the winner while the votes are still being counted.
GOP sees Youngkin as model for 2022:
Youngkin largely avoided campaigning with Trump or naming him at all and instead focused his campaign against teaching racism in schools and opposition to Covid mask and vaccine requirements.
“I think it’s clear that Youngkin and Republicans have found issues that work,” Keith Naughton, a veteran Republican strategist, told The Hill. “You’ve got to address voters’ direct concerns and not your own hobby horses, for lack of a better term. You’ve got to react to what the voters want.”
Democrats, meanwhile, largely focused on tying Youngkin to Trump, who is widely unpopular in the state.
“It has a lot to do with threading that needle; accepting the Trump endorsement, but not embracing Trump in any way,” former Republican White House official Jean Card told the Hill. “It’s clear to me that a lot of effort must have been made to keep Trump away. He never campaigned here. The more McAuliffe said ‘Trump, Trump, Trump,’ the more Youngkin’s team seemed to stay away.”
Trump, though, appeared stung by the coverage of Youngkin’s win.
“Without MAGA, he would have lost by 15 points or more,” he said in a radio interview. “Instead of giving us credit, they say, ‘Oh he’s more popular than Trump.’ It’s unbelievable.”