Two nominees for Virginia governor have emerged out of a field of hopefuls that was more crowded than any other in modern history, perhaps ever. Former private-equity executive Glenn Youngkin was chosen by Republicans in a May 8 convention, while voters in a June 8 Democratic primary opted for former governor Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe is a prodigious fundraiser, an ability that is likely to be tested against Youngkin, a multimillionaire who could spur the most expensive gubernatorial race in the history of the commonwealth. If McAuliffe is successful, he would be one of only two people since the Civil War to twice occupy the Executive Mansion. (The first was Mills Godwin, who served from 1966 to 1970 as a Democrat and from 1974 to 1978 as a Republican.)

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s at stake in this election?
  • Why isn’t Gov. Ralph Northam running for reelection?
  • What other races will be on the ballot in November?

Who is Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe?

Former governor Terry McAuliffe, who won the June 8 primary, occupied the Executive Mansion from 2014 to 2018. Although he had never before held public office, McAuliffe had spent a lifetime in national Democratic politics, most prominently as a record-smashing fundraiser for his close friends Bill and Hillary Clinton. McAuliffe ran as a bipartisan dealmaker, but the Republicans who controlled the General Assembly blocked him from achieving his marquee campaign pledge: expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. With his veto pen, McAuliffe was able to fulfill his promise to be a “brick wall” against GOP efforts to reduce access to abortion. To sidestep the hostile legislature, he relied on executive orders, including one that restored voting rights to convicted felons who had completed their sentences. He also focused on economic development, an issue with broad bipartisan appeal that, in most cases, did not require sign-off by the General Assembly. He helped bring more than $20 billion of capital investment to the state.

Before the primary, McAuliffe was endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), along with about half of the leaders of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. But some Democrats have said they would have liked to have seen a Black woman at the top of the party’s ticket while acknowledging their feeling that McAuliffe, as a tried candidate, was a more pragmatic choice. His primary win was resounding; he took 62 percent of the vote and every locality in the state.

Who is Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin?

Glenn Youngkin is the former co-chief executive of the Carlyle Group, a global private-equity giant. With an estimated net worth of more than $300 million, he has been highlighting an up-by-the-bootstraps biography that includes washing dishes at a Virginia Beach diner as a teenager to help support his family.

On the stump and in TV ads, Youngkin generally presents himself as an upbeat, “morning-in-America”-style Republican who wants to make Virginia a better place to raise a family and run a business. Touting his support for gun rights and opposition to abortion, he says that liberal Democrats in control of the legislature and Executive Mansion have driven Virginia into a ditch and that he has the executive know-how and conservative values to “pull her out.”

But he also has played to former president Donald Trump’s false claim that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election. Youngkin refused to acknowledge that President Biden legitimately won the White House until after securing the Republican nomination and made “election integrity” a focus of his campaign. Ahead of the convention, Youngkin mailed Republicans a wallet-size card marked “The Youngkin Election Integrity Task Force, Member.”

Trump gave Youngkin a rousing endorsement after Youngkin’s win in the May 8 convention: “Glenn is pro-Business, pro-Second Amendment, pro-Veterans, pro-America, he knows how to make Virginia’s economy rip-roaring, and he has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump said in a statement posted to his website. Youngkin said he was “honored” to receive Trump’s endorsement but has treaded carefully when it comes to the former president, who remains highly popular with the GOP base despite his 10-point loss in Virginia overall last year. Since winning the nomination, Youngkin has said he is focused on the “kitchen table” issues popular with suburban swing voters, such as jobs, schools and public safety. But he also has frequently appeared on Fox News shows touting his opposition to certain transgender rights and to “critical race theory” in schools — culture-war issues that motivate GOP activists.

Who is running as an independent for governor in Virginia?

Princess Blanding, whose brother, a Black high school biology teacher, was killed by Richmond police while he was experiencing a mental health crisis in 2018, is running for governor under the newly formed Liberation Party. In her announcement video, she advocated dismantling “the two-party system that continues to block needed changes,” saying she wanted to focus on issues such as health care for everyone, safe schools and criminal justice reform.

How much money has each candidate raised so far?

The race for governor promises to be historically expensive, with two multimillionaires squaring off. McAuliffe, a prodigious fundraiser, took in about $15 million by the end of May, while Youngkin had raised nearly $16 million for his campaign — $12 million of that in loans from himself.

Youngkin’s campaign said he plans to raise $75 million for his campaign but has not specified how much of that will come from his own bank account. Still, $75 million would be a record-smashing sum for a single gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, where unusually lax campaign-finance laws allow for unlimited personal and corporate contributions. That would exceed the combined $66 million spent on the governor’s race four years ago, when Democrat and now-Gov. Ralph Northam spent $37 million and Republican Ed Gillespie shelled out $29 million.

Third-party candidate Blanding has raised just over $19,000.

Will there be any debates?

So far, both McAuliffe and Youngkin have agreed to one debate — at the Appalachian School of Law. That debate will take place in August or September. McAuliffe has committed to a total of five debates, while Youngkin has said he would consider doing a total of three, if both campaigns can agree on the details.

What’s at stake in this election?

The contest will be the first test of whether Virginia Republicans, who have not won a statewide race since 2009 and saw their losses mount during the Trump administration, can regain their footing in the onetime swing state. Nationally, it will be viewed as an early referendum on President Biden and a harbinger for next year’s midterm elections.

Enormous national attention and money are expected to flood into the state, one of just two with governor’s races this year. (Democrats are heavily favored in the other state, New Jersey.)

Why isn’t Gov. Ralph Northam running for reelection?

Virginia is the only state in the nation that prohibits its governors from serving consecutive terms. There is no limit on the number of terms they can serve, but there must be a break between.

What other races will be on the ballot in November?

Voters also will choose among candidates for two other statewide offices — attorney general and lieutenant governor — along with all 100 seats in the House of Delegates.

In the attorney general’s race, two-term incumbent Mark R. Herring (D) will face the Republican nominee, Del. Jason S. Miyares (Virginia Beach).

In the race for lieutenant governor, Del. Hala S. Ayala (D-Prince William) will face former state delegate Winsome Sears (R-Norfolk). That race also will make history: The nomination of Ayala — who is of Afro-Latina, Lebanese and Irish descent — to run for lieutenant governor against Republican Winsome E. Sears, who is Black, ensures that Virginia will elect a woman of color to statewide office for the first time.

Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.