Republicans claimed the governorship of Virginia for the first time in more than a decade today, electing the businessman Glenn Youngkin and presenting their party with a formula for how to exploit President Biden’s vulnerabilities and evade the shadow of Donald Trump in Democratic-leaning states.
Youngkin, 54, a wealthy former private equity executive making his first run for office, elevated education and taxes while projecting a suburban-dad demeanor to demonstrate he was different from Trump without saying so outright.
He defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who, with Trump out of office, struggled to generate enthusiasm among liberals at a moment when conservatives are energized in opposition to Biden.
Addressing supporters in Northern Virginia, Youngkin said the state had reached “a defining moment.”
“Together we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth,” Youngkin said after taking the stage and clapping along to the blues-rock anthem “Spirit in the Sky.”
The election took place at a moment when voters are deeply frustrated, weary from the still-lingering coronavirus pandemic and irritated at the costs and scarcity of goods.
Large majorities in polls say that the country is on the wrong track, a foreboding indicator for the party in power.
No less bracing for Democrats was a second gubernatorial election unfolding in New Jersey: the incumbent governor, Philip Murphy, was narrowly trailing a relatively obscure Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, deep into the night.
A mainstream liberal with ties to the White House, Murphy was staking his hopes for a comeback on a strong performance in several solidly Democratic areas where votes were slow to report.
But the unexpected closeness of the race underscored the overall vulnerability of the Democratic Party.
Much like Youngkin in Virginia, Ciattarelli appeared to benefit from robust turnout in rural and conservative-leaning areas of the state while making inroads in denser areas such as Bergen County, the populous suburb of New York City.
Youngkin’s surprise victory in Virginia, however, represents the starkest warning yet that Democrats are in danger.
It was likely to prompt additional congressional retirements, intensify the intraparty tug of war over Biden’s agenda and fuel fears that a midterm electoral wave and Mr. Trump’s return as a candidate are all but inevitable.
“The MAGA movement is bigger and stronger than ever before,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday night.