Republican Glenn Youngkin has won the Virginia governor's race in a crushing result for President Joe Biden and his Democratic party with just a year to go until the midterm elections.
Mr Youngkin, the former co-chief executive of the private equity group Carlyle, was projected as the winner of the contest against Democrat Terry McAuliffe by the Associated Press in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
In another ominous sign for Democrats, a second governor's race in New Jersey was still too close to call after a contest that incumbent Phil Murphy had been projected to win by a wide margin turned into a nail-biter.
With an estimated 96 per cent of votes counted, Mr Youngkin led in Virginia with just shy of 51 per cent of the vote, compared with 48.4 per cent for Mr McAuliffe, according to the AP. More than 3m Virginians voted in Tuesday’s election.
Mr Youngkin's victory in the state, which Mr Biden won by a 10-point margin over Donald Trump just a year ago, deals a serious blow to the president and his party nationwide. The result came against the backdrop of sinking approval ratings for Mr Biden and bitter infighting among Democrats in Congress over his legislative agenda.
Mr Youngkin, a political novice who entered the contest with virtually no name recognition, gained significant ground in the final weeks of the campaign and opinion polls gave him a slight edge heading into election day.
The election results showed Mr Youngkin had secured strong support in rural areas, and made inroads in suburban areas outside of Washington DC, where more moderate Republicans rejected the party during the Trump era.
“Alrighty, Virginia, we won this thing! How much fun!” Mr Youngkin said during a victory speech early on Wednesday. “Together, together, we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth, and friends, we are going to start that transformation on day one,” he said.
MrYoungkin spoke around the same time as Biden landed back in Washington after his travels to the G20 summit in Italy and the Cop-26 climate conference in the UK. The AP declared the Republican victory in the race while Air Force One was starting its descent into the US capital – and Mr Biden did not respond to questions about the result when he returned to the White House.
The Democrats’ defeat in Virginia serves as a worrying electoral bellwether for the president’s party ahead of next year’s midterms, when control of both houses of Congress is up for grabs.
Mr McAuliffe, a veteran party fundraiser who is close to Bill and Hillary Clinton and served a term as governor from 2013 to 2017, entered the contest as the frontrunner. But he struggled to counter a slick campaign from Mr Youngkin that focused on “culture wars” in education in addition to traditional Republican issues such as lower taxes.
The McAuliffe campaign tried to tie Mr Youngkin, who had never run for political office, to Mr Trump, who was unpopular in Virginia’s densely-populated suburbs.
Mr Youngkin said he would ban schools from embracing critical race theory, a once obscure academic field that examines the role of race in US society.
Democrats countered by pointing out that critical race theory was not part of Virginia’s education system and accused Mr Youngkin of running a “dog-whistle” campaign. But Mr McAuliffe seemed to miss the mood of voters when he said in a televised debate that parents should not have a say over what is taught in public schools.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr McAuliffe said: “While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in . . . While there will be setbacks along the way, I am confident that the long term path of Virginia is toward inclusion, openness and tolerance for all.”
In New Jersey, Mr Murphy had been widely expected to secure re-election, with the latest statewide surveys showing him leading among registered and likely voters by nine points.
But Mr Murphy trailed overnight, then squeaked into the lead on Wednesday morning as vote counting inched forward in several heavily Democratic counties.
In New York City's mayoral race, Democrat Eric Adams defeated Republican Curtis Sliwa. Mr Adams' victory was widely anticipated given the city's overwhelmingly Democratic electorate. Michelle Wu, also a Democrat, became the first Asian-American and first female to be elected mayor of Boston.
Several cities and states also held ballot referendums on Tuesday, including Minneapolis, Minnesota, where voters rejected a proposal to disband the city's police department, 18 months after George Floyd was killed there. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021/Reuters