elections of 2021

McAuliffe Cruises to Virginia Gubernatorial Nomination

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The top of both major-party tickets was set in primaries in New Jersey and
Virginia, the two states holding elections in this off-year (along with a gubernatorial recall in California). And there were no real surprises.

In Virginia, former governor Terry McAuliffe routed a strong field to win a chance to post the third straight Democratic victory in a Virginia gubernatorial race. He carried every city and county in the state while winning 62 percent of the vote overall. State Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who ran to McAuliffe’s left and won some key progressive endorsements, finished second with just under 20 percent of the vote. State Senator Jennifer McClellan was third with 12 percent. And trailing the pack were Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, whose political career has been derailed by sexual assault allegations, and self-identified socialist State Delegate Lee Carter, who also lost his legislative seat in Tuesday’s primary. Foy, McLellan, and Fairfax are all Black, though white candidate McAuliffe, long a close associate of the Clintons, had some important Black endorsements.

Tepid turnout in the Democratic primary has some Virginia Democrats worried about enthusiasm levels for McAuliffe, who will face self-funding “businessman-outsider” Glenn Youngkin. But the big fear among Democrats is that Virginia’s ancient tradition of always voting against gubernatorial candidate of the sitting president’s party — a tradition McAuliffe successfully defied in 2013 — will reassert itself this fall, even though Republicans haven’t won a statewide race of any sort since 2009.

Attorney General Mark Herring overcame a college “blackface photo” scandal to win renomination for a third term over Black state delegate Jay Jones by a 56-44 margin. Jones was endorsed by term-limited governor Ralph Northam, despite Jones having called for Northam’s resignation when his own blackface-photo scandal broke. Herring will face Republican nominee Jason Miyares, a Cuban-American state delegate. And in the only Democrat statewide contest without an incumbent or former incumbent, State Delegate Hala Ayala, who identifies as Afro-Latino and Lebanese, defeated a large field of newcomers, with legislative colleague Sam Rasoul (a progressive bidding to become the state’s first Muslim statewide elected official) finishing second. Ayala will compete with Republican nominee and Black former state legislator Winsome Sears, a staunch Trump supporter and military veteran whose campaign posters show her brandishing an assault rifle. The winner in November will become the first woman of color to win statewide office in Virginia.

All three Democratic statewide nominees are from vote-rich Northern Virginia, while Republicans have more geographical balance, with Miyares hailing from the Tidewater region and Sears having run for office in the same area earlier in her career.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a once-competitive state where Democrats have begun winning big in recent years (Biden won the state by 15 points last year, as compared to a ten-point win in Virginia), the big primary was the gubernatorial contest on the Republican side, where the favored candidate, former assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, rode strong fundraising and endorsements to beat two Trump-oriented challengers (Hirsh Singh and Phil Rizzo) who split the MAGA vote down the middle. Ciattarelli won with just under half the vote and immediately began attacking incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy as a wealthy New Englander who wasn’t loyal to New Jersey interests or traditions.

The Republican needs all the attention he can get; primary polls showed even his own party’s voters didn’t know him well, and early general election polls show the incumbent leading Ciattarelli by double digits. Murphy’s recent approval ratings have been down from the high levels he achieved during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s still in a solidly positive range, which in this quite-blue state should be enough.

McAuliffe Cruises to Virginia Gubernatorial Nomination