2021 Virginia Governor’s Election


(Credit: Cliff Owen, The Associated Press)

Ally Richardson

On November 2nd, newcomer Glenn Youngkin became the official projected winner of the Virginia governor’s election, beating former governor Terry McAuliffe. At the beginning of next year, January 15th, the inauguration of Youngkin will take place, making him the 74th Governor of Virginia.

Meet the Candidates
Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin was born in Richmond and raised in Virginia Beach. He is a proud family man and father of four children. For his education, Youngkin earned a degree from Rice University for engineering, and later, his Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Harvard Business School. He spent most of his business career at the Carlyle Group, eventually becoming co-CEO. In September 2020, Youngkin stepped down from his position to announce his candidacy in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election.
Former 72nd Governor of Virginia and Democrat candidate Terry McAuliffe was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. He’s a father of five who lives with his family in McLean, Virginia. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University of America and assisted in President Jimmy Carter’s doomed re-election campaign. He decided to study further and received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1984 at Georgetown University Law Center. He later joined other political campaigns, and became the co-chair of Bill Clinton’s 1996 presidential campaign and Hilary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, respectively. He became the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005. He continued to gain political experience until his first run at the Virginia governor’s office in 2013, winning the election and going on to have a gubernatorial term from 2014 to 2018. He officially announced his candidacy in the 2021 Virginia governor’s election in December 2020.
Though he was named the “Public Official of the Year” by GOVERNING magazine in 2017, how successful was McAuliffe’s overall tenure during his first term as governor?
During the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election, McAuliffe focused on the creation of jobs for Virginians as his main issue. During his term Virginian unemployment went down, going from 5.7 to 3.3%. Though he was less popular than his predecessors Bob McDonnell and Tim Kaine, McAuliffe had strong job approval ratings from registered voters throughout his term. He wanted to expand Medicaid in Virginia but was blocked by the Republican-heavy state senate. To fulfill his promise of more jobs for Virginians, McAuliffe supported and welcomed many companies to establish headquarters in Virginia, Nestle and Amazon being just two of them. McAuliffe made the controversial decision to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 Virginian ex-offenders who completed their parole or prison time. Many contested this development and the Virginia Supreme Court struck it down before it took effect.

Campaign Topics
At the start of both their campaigns, Youngkin rolled out his “Day one” plan and McAuliffe put together a detailed six-page plan. The main issues focused on during the course of Youngkin’s and McAuliffe’s respective campaigns were health, criminal justice, climate change, the economy, and education.

COVID-19 and abortion served as the biggest topics discussed in regards to health. They took the forefront with challenges to Roe V. Wade’s decision in states like Texas, and the continuing effects of the pandemic on everyday life.
Youngkin has largely opposed a statewide school mask mandate and vaccine mandates in workplaces. He also criticized shutdowns of businesses during quarantine. Throughout the election, Youngkin reinforced his “pro-life” ideals and expressed his support towards reinstating some abortion restrictions. He also said he would support investing more in the state’s mental hospitals.
McAuliffe released a plan to increase vaccination rates through incentivization and openly supports school mask mandates. He also reiterated his support for abortion and women’s rights, using when he vetoed a bill that planned to defund Planned Parenthood as an example. One of his health policies that were less focused on was his plan to lower drug costs and increase healthcare access by providing more funding to Medicaid.

Criminal Justice/Civil Rights
BLM and LGBTQ+ protests and the laxness of repercussions for law enforcement inflamed during the pandemic have made these issues more controversial this year than most.
Youngkin has attacked McAuliffe for wanting to further restore voting rights to ex-offenders by pointing out how they would have their access to firearms restored. He also pointed out how unsafe the state has become due to criminal reforms passed by Democrats in the past year. He claimed that he would “fully fund law enforcement” and lessen restrictions on firearms. Youngkin has tried to remain neutral in regards to the LGBTQ+ community, but when asked about his support for the same-sex-marriage he said he didn’t.
McAuliffe emphasized restoring voting rights to those who have finished their sentences throughout his campaign. This includes hiring more public defenders and giving more overall funding and programs to state prisons. He also showed how he would back banning assault weapons. McAuliffe expressed his support for the LGBTQ+ community and how he would pass provisions to help protect them.

Climate Change/Energy
Climate change has made a more prominent appearance in elections in recent years with the dangers of irreversibility increasing with each coming year and the possibility of using other forms of power
Youngkin has tried to remain rather neutral in regards to climate change, claiming that he didn’t know what caused it and tried to disregard it by calling it a topic that’s meant to divide people. Only calling for funding for the Hampton Roads (a region in southeast Virginia next to the Chesapeake Bay) which have faced increasing damage due to sea levels rising. Youngkin has completely opposed transitioning Virginia to be solely reliant on solar and wind for power, calling it unreliable. He reiterated our need for fossil fuels and the potential costs increase in electricity bills Virginians would face, should we stop using them.
McAuliffe had a detailed plan in regards to climate change, part of which included funding coastal regions in Virginia, like Hampton Roads. He wanted to prioritize the restoration of wetlands and fund research on our coasts to prevent flooding. His plan also outlined how we could make a smooth transition to solely relying on clean energy by moving up the date in the Virginia Clean Economy Act (an act passed that gave Virginia a deadline of 2050 for all carbon emissions to be extinguished) to 2030. McAuliffe tied in jobs to this stating that he could see there are more jobs in the clean energy business, especially with Hampton Roads being a possibility to become a wind industry.

Economy (jobs)
With the pandemic causing many Virginians to lose their jobs, the economy and job creation are issues that have been proven to be important to Virginians during this election.
Youngkin used his business experience as an example of how he could facilitate job creation. He supported one-time tax rebates and getting rid of the state grocery tax. Youngkin blamed democrats for shutting down jobs during the pandemic and increasing unemployment.
During his campaign, McAuliffe reiterated his support for job creation as he did in the 2013 election. He used his bringing Amazon and Nestle headquarters to Virginia as examples of how he’s created jobs already. He claimed that he would make employers offer paid family medical leave and sick days. He has supported increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, sooner than planned by the state.

The candidates focused somewhat on funding but spent much more time on controversial issues like the teaching of critical race theory (lessons that focus more on instances of racism throughout history) in schools.
Youngkin included in his plan that he would require one law enforcement officer at every school and would build 20 charter schools across the state. He also addressed critical race theory in this statement “Critical race theory has moved into our school system and we have to remove it,” he associated it with a negative connotation and essentially compared it to an infestation that needs to be stopped before it infects and overtakes public education in Virginia. Youngkin largely emphasized the right of a parent to intervene in their child’s education.
McAuliffe’s plan consisted of more funding for teacher salaries, adopting the Virginia standards of learning in all public schools and making access to preschool widely available across the state. In regards to critical race theory, McAuliffe responded to Youngkin’s criticisms with “I don’t think parents should be telling the school what they should teach kids.” But, overall dismissed Youngkin’s attacks by calling them racist.

Election Night
The night of the election the incoming remained within a 5% difference. The final result was 50.6% (1,663,596) of the votes going to Youngkin and 48.6% (1,600,116) going to McAuliffe. On Wednesday morning McAuliffe officially conceded to Youngkin, congratulating him on his win. Youngkin officially became the projected winner of the 2021 Virginia Gubernatorial Election, and the first republican governor of Virginia since 2009. CNBC’s Emily Dediccio pointed out Gary Sabatos’ reasoning for McAuliffe’s loss “‘My take is that the key factor was, in fact, President Biden’s low ratings,” said Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “You can’t avoid it. I can’t see how anyone can deny that…That’s what it’s about, it’s not just about his agenda.’”

Youngkin’s Plan
Youngkin plans to immediately begin enforcing his policies for education, especially with parent involvement. His campaign statement being “Glenn will cut exploding costs for families and relieve the burdens of inflation and taxes. He will cut regulations to create jobs and make it easier for innovators and entrepreneurs to get small businesses moving again. He will restore our high standards for schools and our students, ban critical race theory, invest in our teachers and schools, and empower parents with real choices.”

While not all Virginians are happy with the election results, Youngkin has shown a passion for Virginia and the improvement of life for all Virginians. The Virginia gubernatorial election involved many controversial and topical issues that may continue to come up in future elections.