Katharine DeRosa, News Editor
This year Virginia saw the highest voter turnout in a gubernatorial election since 1993, which resulted in a red wave for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, according to data from the Virginia Department of Elections.
Of those registered to vote, just over 55% participated in the gubernatorial election, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. In the 1993 gubernatorial election, 61.1% of registered voters cast a ballot. Voter turnout in the gubernatorial elections has ranged between 40-50% since then, until this year.
Republican Glenn Youngkin beat his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe to flip Virginia’s gubernatorial seat red for the first time since Bob McDonnell held the seat from 2010 to 2014, according to Ballotpedia.
Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares also overtook Democratic candidates Hala Ayala and Mark Herring in the Nov. 2 election to win lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.
VCU professor of political science John Aughenbaugh said he found Youngkin’s victory “somewhat surprising” because of Virginia’s previous Democratic governors, McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, in addition to President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020. Biden won by 10% in Virginia, garnering more than 54% of the votes, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
Youngkin found a way to campaign to those who supported Trump, without alienating more moderate citizens who voted for Biden in 2020, Aughenbaugh said. Youngkin mainly appealed to voters through his stances on education, according to Augbenbaugh.
“He threaded the needle between mobilizing Trump supporters while also appealing to many voters in the suburbs, and many women — particularly women without college degrees,” Aughenbaugh said.
McAuliffe’s “biggest” misstep during the campaign was his comment during the last gubernatorial debate before the election, when he said he didn’t believe parents should have a say in public school curriculum, according to Aughenbaugh. These comments caused people to “flip” their vote, Aughenbaugh said.
“I mean, that really struck a chord with many suburban voters,” Aughenbaugh said. “For many parents, that was just like ‘Really?’”
Youngkin garnered 50.57% of votes, while McAuliffe secured 48.64%, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Liberation Party candidate Princess Blanding received 0.7% of votes.
Another way Youngkin appealed to voters was through his views on election integrity; the governor-elect didn’t suggest a “grand conspiracy” of election fraud as Trump did, Aughenbaugh said, however his language offered a “verbal cue” to Trump supporters. Youngkin’s website offers a section where people can sign up to be poll watchers.
“He didn’t go full Trump, but he said enough things to where Trump supporters could say ‘Glenn Youngkin is one of us,’” Aughenbaugh said.
Junior political science major Matthew Alonso has been a member of VCU’s chapter of College Republicans for one year. Alonso said he joined the group to “maybe try to make a little bit of a change.” He said he felt more optimistic about the Republican Party’s chances as Election Day neared.
“I think if you told me what would have happened two months before, I would have told you you were insane,” Alonso said. “But once we got a little closer, definitely the last week or two before the election, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s very much a possibility.’”
Through his connection to College Republicans, Alonso said he had the chance to meet Youngkin multiple times. The first time he met Youngkin was at Vagabond on Broad Street in Richmond. Youngkin was “genuine” compared to “career politicians,” Alonso said. Youngkin has never held public office before, according to Ballotpedia.
“He’s a very humble guy,” Alonso said. “If he was just some random dude like you meet at a bar or something, you would have had no idea.”
Alonso said he hopes Youngkin will loosen COVID-19 restrictions, such as local mask mandates when he takes office. There are currently no Virginia-wide mandates for masks, however VCU currently requires masks in all indoor areas regardless of vaccination status, according to the university website. Everyone ages 2 and older in K-12 Virginia public school is also required to wear a mask, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
Alonso said he believes McAuliffe failed to appease parents on education issues in the commonwealth, particularly when he said parents shouldn’t have a role in public education.
Youngkin’s website states he plans to ban critical race theory while in office. Critical race theory is not currently being taught in Loudoun County Public Schools, according to a report from The Loudoun Times-Mirror.
Critical race theory is the idea that race is “socially constructed” in order to oppress people of color, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Junior political science, mass communications and African American studies student Tarazha Jenkins is a member of Young Democrats on campus. She said she worries talks on banning critical race theory could affect the presence of Black history in public schools.
“Once you erase history, especially in a public education curriculum, when we barely had any in the first place, that really shows where — what matters to them,” Jenkins said.
Although she is a member of Young Democrats, Jenkins said she has trouble continuing to identify as Democratic because of the party’s missteps. Jenkins said she feels the Democratic Party made a mistake by not selecting Jennifer McCellan as the gubernatorial nominee. If elected, McCellan would have been the first Black female governor of Virginia.
“Instead, they picked like, you know, the typical white man who was very palatable, ” Jenkins said. “So I truly think they missed the bar by picking Terry [McAuliffe].”
Republicans also accomplished historic milestones for minorities during the general election. Sears is the first Black woman to hold the lieutenant governor’s seat in Virginia and Miyares is the first Latino man to become attorney general in Virginia.
Sears’ opponent, Ayala, also would have made history as the first women of color to hold the office if elected. Jenkins referred to this as a “win-win, regardless,” because of the opportunity for a minority to be in office. She referred to Ayala as a “great woman” and a “great speaker.”
“I think that it’s bold of Winsome Sears to put herself out there as a Republican woman to be lieutenant governor,” Jenkins said. “It’s commendable to see or to be able to see a Black woman in lieutenant governor, despite, you know, despite the political parties and all that good stuff. It’s nice to see somebody of color in that position, especially for the first time.”