Former Virginia Governor McAuliffe wins Democratic primary in governor’s race

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Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe speaks at the North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU) 2019 legislative conference in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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June 8 (Reuters) - Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe easily won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday for the state’s gubernatorial election, securing his spot in a race that could signal where voters stand after the divisive 2020 presidential contest.

McAuliffe, a 64-year-old moderate who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, was leading four other candidates, with more than 60 percent of the vote with 2,063 precincts of 2,584 reporting. Major news organizations projected him the winner shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m.

He will face off against the Republican nominee, former private equity executive Glenn Youngkin, 54, in the general election on Nov. 2.

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If McAuliffe wins that contest, he would become Virginia's second two-term governor since the U.S. Civil War. The state's constitution prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms.

"Thank you Virginia!!!" he tweeted on Tuesday night.

A longtime Democratic fundraiser with close ties to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe benefited from his political experience and popularity in the state party.

On the campaign trail, he touted his achievements as governor, which included expanding voting rights for ex-felons and overseeing a drop in unemployment and a rise in personal income.

McAuliffe was backed by much of the state's Democratic establishment, including some three dozen state legislators and Democratic Governor Ralph Northam.

The Virginia governor's race is seen as a test for both parties following Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 presidential victory and could be a bellwether of voter sentiment ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats will be looking to maintain control of the U.S. Congress.

"If the Republicans can manage to recapture Virginia, which has clearly moved in a Democratic direction, the prospects for Democrats in the midterm elections in 2022 will be dimmed; there's just no doubt about it," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

PROGRESSIVES FALL SHORT

Virginia has become more Democratic in recent years. No Republican has won statewide office in the Southern state since 2009, and Democrats have controlled both chambers of the legislature since 2019. Republican former President Donald Trump lost Virginia in 2020 by 10 percentage points, double his margin of defeat in the state in 2016.

If elected governor, McAuliffe's ability to pass his agenda may hinge on whether Democrats can retain their slight majority in the state legislature. But McAuliffe's victory suggests the state's Democrats still favor an establishment politician over a more progressive newcomer.

In second place was former state Representative Jennifer Carroll Foy, with about 20% of the vote, followed by state Senator Jennifer McClellan at about 11%. They had both been seeking to become the first woman and the first Black woman elected Virginia governor.

McAuliffe's campaign has raised more than $12 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, and Youngkin's has raised nearly $16 million.

Unlike many other Republican candidates seeking Trump’s favor, Youngkin has not echoed the former president’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. But Youngkin’s vow to make voting security one of his top priorities plays to the concerns of Republicans nationally.

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Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney

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