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Republican lieutenant governor candidate Winsome Sears appears to have won the race for the No. 2 spot in Virginia's state government, with almost all votes counted.
Unofficial results showed Sears, 57, with 1,591,434 votes, or 51.4 percent, with Democratic candidate Hala Ayala, 48, at 1,501,533 or 48.5 percent, CNN reported.
However, a handful of precincts have yet to be counted, including nine in Fairfax county and one on Tangier Island, as well as absentee ballots mailed by the Election Day deadline. Those dispatched ballots will be counted by November 5, the state Department of Elections said.
Sears will not only make history as the first woman to hold office, but also as the first woman of color.
The job of the state's lieutenant governor is frequently tipped as a launching pad to the governor's mansion. Half of the past 10 lieutenant governors went on to become governor.
Former Republican Delegate Winsome Sears celebrates winning the race for Lt. Governor of Virginia as she introduces Republican candidate for Governor Glenn Youngkin during an election night party in Chantilly, Virginia
Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (left) speaks with running partner Lt. Gov. candidate Winsome Sears (right) after a rally in Fredericksburg, Virginia
Sears, a gun-loving former Marine, will not only make history as the first woman to hold office, but also as the first woman of color
Lieutenant Governor Elect Winsome Sears: "There are some who want to divide us and we must not let that happen. They would like us to believe we are back in 1963 when my father came...In case you haven’t noticed, I am black, and I have been black all my life." pic.twitter.com/NoJJc6qxBe
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) November 3, 2021
The No. 2 spots also happens to lead the state Senate, in which neither Sears nor Ayala, have served before, and to be next in line if the governor dies or is impeached. That's never happened since the office was created in 1852.
Lieutenant governors can also be the decisive factor in tie votes on most bills, but not on the state budget. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in that body, but some issues do not split on strictly partisan lines.
That said, the lieutenant governor does not have the power to introduce legislation.
Both Ayala and Sears competed for votes on the same day Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin vied for the high-profile top seat on the ticket: the governor's office. Youngkin, 54, is believed to have won 1,677,276, or 50.67 percent of the state's votes, while McAuliffe, 64, took home 1,610,142, or 48.64 percent.
Terry McAuliffe’s camp was left shell-shocked by Youngkin's surge to victory in a state that President Biden won by 10 points just one year ago.
In the lieutenant governor's race, the Republican, Winsome Sears, is a former Marine who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica as a girl and vaulted to victory in a crowded primary on the enthusiasm generated by a campaign photo of her posing with a military rifle.
Sears is staunch defender of the 2nd amendment as she is pictured posing with a rifle that vaulted her to victory in the primary in April as a weapon against her
Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor Hala Ayala narrowly lost to Sears, who claimed 1,591,434 votes, or 51.4 percent, while she collected 1,501,533 or 48.5 percent of ballots. Here she is pictured speaking at a Get Out The Vote rally October 30, 2021 in Hampton, Virginia
The Democrat, Hala Ayala, claims African, Hispanic, Irish and Lebanese ancestry. She frequently refers to her 'lived experience' as a single mother who almost died in childbirth.
Sears had a brief stint in electoral politics 20 years ago as a one-term delegate in the General Assembly, representing parts of Hampton roads. Her return to politics after a two-decade absence began when she served as national chairperson for Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump.
Ayala, on the other hand, was launched into public office by her organizing role in the resistance to President Donald Trump when he was inaugurated in 2017.
Ayala won election to the House in November 2017 and quickly rose through the Democratic ranks to serve as chief deputy whip, helping to shepherd a raft of legislation into law after Democrats took control of the legislature in 2020, including abolition of the death penalty, the legalization of marijuana, and election reforms.
Sears won the nomination by beating five other candidates, including two — former Del. Tim Hugo from Fairfax County and Virginia Beach Del. Glenn Davis — who were far more active in recent GOP politics.
Ayala, in an interview, emphasized the role the lieutenant governor plays as a tie-breaking vote in the state Senate, where Democrats currently hold just a 21-19 advantage.
Virginia Democratic lieutenant governor Hala Ayala was now-former governor Terry McAuliffe's running mate
Democratic nominee for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe's loss will come as a crushing blow to the Biden administration, which won the state against former President Donald Trump during the 2020 election. Pictured: McAuliffe speaking to his election night party and rally in McLean, Virginia, on November 2nd
When it comes to abortion rights, the lieutenant governor's post is even more important, she said, because the chamber is essentially divided 20-20 on abortion issues — Democratic Sen. Joe Morrissey has voted against some legislation that would have expanded abortion rights in the state.
Ayala noted that abortion rights could become a key issues in state legislatures across the country if the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court weakens abortion protections.
'I am a firewall for reproductive health care, and empowering individuals to make their own choices about their own bodies,' she said.
Asked whether she believes abortion rights need to be expanded, she said she supports enshrining Roe v. Wade in the state Constitution. But she declined to say whether she would vote to eliminate Virginia's requirement for minors to obtain parental consent to get an abortion.
Sears' campaign declined to make her available for an interview, responding instead with requests for a list of written questions in advance. She has also refused to answer questions about whether she has gotten the coronavirus vaccine, something for which Ayala has criticized her.
Ayala supports vaccine mandates for state workers and mask mandates in schools, her campaign said.
During the primary, Sears ridiculed mask mandates put in place by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, posting a video in which she pulled a mask off a cardboard cutout of Northam and stomped it into the sand, with the Virginia Beach boardwalk in the background.
Until now, Sears may have be the most unconventional candidate on the statewide ballot this year. She speaks in a stream-of-consciousness style and loves to tell the story of her first campaign for office, when someone superimposed her face onto a pornographic photo.
'I looked good!' she jokes to the audience.
Sears was the first Black Republican, the first female military veteran and the first naturalized citizen to serve in the legislative body. She immigrated to the US from Jamaica as a young girl
Sears is often outspoken and loves to tell the story of her first campaign for office, when someone superimposed her face onto a pornographic photo. Here she is pictured celebrating the race for Lt. Governor of Virginia
But the story is emblematic, she says, of the obstacles she faced as a Black Republican who was taking on an establishment that expects Blacks to vote Democratic.
'The other side wants to use the problems of the past to define us and we shouldn't let them,' she told a crowd in rural Chesterfield County earlier this month. 'It is time for them to find another victim. ... Yes, we know that there are problems, but we can fix them.'
When she served in the legislature, she earned top ratings from anti-abortion and gun-rights organizations. She touted that record in her successful primary campaign, but has revised her website during the general election to remove those references.
Ayala says Sears is too extreme. In ads, Ayala uses the same photo of Sears posing with a rifle that vaulted her to victory in the primary as a weapon against her.
'My opponent has shown she's not a leader,' Ayala said. 'If somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time.'
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