News & Politics

Virginia Swings Back to Swing State Status

Glenn Youngkin becomes Virginia's first Republican Governor since Bob McDonnell.

GOP candidate for Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin. Courtesy of Youngkin campaign

In the wake of Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election, the commonwealth appears to have regained its status as a swing state–at least for now.

In recent elections, Virginia’s voters have increasingly favored Democrats. Biden defeated Trump in the commonwealth by ten points, and four out of the past five governors of Virginia have been Democrats. 

But the results of Tuesday’s election, in which Youngkin defeated Virginia’s former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe by about 72,000 votes, show that politics in the state might not have changed as much as the pundits once believed. 

“Virginia was a purple state for quite some time and was always a purple state underneath,” Democratic political consultant Ben Tribbett told The Washington Post. “But in the Trump era, we became a blue state in reaction to his policies. We will go back to being a swing state going forward.”

Nathan Gonzales, the editor and publisher of Inside Elections, says that Virginia voters’ distaste for Trump made it more complicated to assess the underlying political trends in the state. “The conventional wisdom that Republicans wouldn’t be able to regain power in Virginia was based on the [expectation of the] Trump dynamic lasting beyond Trump,” he says. “But these recent results showed that the voters made a different calculation when Trump’s name isn’t on the ballot.”

Gonzales believes, though, that it’s too soon to tell whether Youngkin’s victory marks the permanent return of Virginia as a swing state. It might, he says, simply reflect the dynamics of this specific race.  

“The recent results show that under the right conditions Republicans can win [in Virginia],” he says. “But we have to remember that it took Biden’s poll numbers being terrible and a good Republican candidate who could spend his own money and [who] was able to hold a coalition together of voters who voters who voted for Trump and those who didn’t.”

“Virginia was declared a Democratic-leaning state because there were multiple election cycles where [Democrats] did well,” Gonzales continues. “Now, I would like to see multiple election cycles where it is a swing state before declaring it a swing state.”

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.