RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Republican Winsome Sears has been elected as Virginia’s next lieutenant governor, securing a narrow victory over Democrat Hala Ayala to become the first woman to hold the office and first woman of color to win statewide office in the commonwealth.
The Associated Press called the race for Sears on Wednesday afternoon. Unofficial results from the state’s Department of Elections show Sears maintaining a slight edge over Del. Ayala (D-Prince William), but above the 1% threshold for a possible recount.
Sears, a former state delegate, will preside over the state Senate as lieutenant governor. As president of the 40-member chamber, Sears will be tasked with breaking tied votes when lawmakers are locked on a measure.
“I’m here because of you. I’m here because you voted for me. I’m here because you put your trust in me,” Sears told a crowd of supporters at Glenn Youngkin’s victory party in Chantilly. “That’s the only reason I’m here.”
Sears wasn’t announced as the race’s winner when she stepped on stage after midnight Wednesday, but her victory speech outlined Republican’s ambitions in Virginia.
“What we are going to do, is we are going to now be about the business of the commonwealth. We have things to tend to,” Sears said. “We are going to fully fund our historically Black colleges and universities.”
The lieutenant governor-elect has laid out several campaign proposals on her website, many of which are identical to the ideas Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate for governor, has pitched: eliminating the grocery tax, providing a one-time tax rebate, firing the entire state parole board. While her support for Youngkin’s plans isn’t surprising, it does show how aligned Sears is with the governor-elect.
Sears also aims to push for a Black Virginians advisory cabinet to the governor if elected and has called for a once-in-a-generation investment in Historically Black Colleges & Universities, according to Sears’ campaign website.
In a statement after the race was called, Ayala noted Sears’ historic victory but told supporters “this is just the beginning.” Ayala, who identifies as Afro-Latina, Lebanese and Irish, would have also made history as the first woman to hold the office and as first woman of color to win statewide in Virginia.
“I want to congratulate my opponent on making history and paving the way for future women leaders who look like us,” Ayala said. “We may not be able to claim victory today, but we know that the results of this election are simply a minor setback in our larger fight for progress.”
The job, the only statewide office that is part-time, is mainly an administrative role, but one seen as a springboard to the Executive Mansion. Gov. Ralph Northam and two former Virginia governors, Sen Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Douglas Wilder, all served as lieutenant governor before taking the commonwealth’s top elected office.
The official duties of Virginia’s lieutenant governor are to preside over the state Senate as the president of the 40-member chamber and to succeed the governor if they were to leave office before their term is over. The lieutenant governor casts tie-breaking votes when state senators are split on a measure and can make rulings on disputes between lawmakers.
Sears, the first Black Republican woman to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly, represented Norfolk in the House of Delegates from 2002 to 2004. She emigrated from Jamaica when she was a child and served in the Marines before running for office.
In 2004, Sears made a congressional run but failed to unseat Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). She served on the Virginia Board of Education and was appointed to the U.S. Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans by then-President George W. Bush.
All statewide election results in Virginia are unofficial until they are certified by the State Board of Elections on Nov. 15.