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Former CEO Glenn Youngkin wins Virginia GOP governor nomination after last challenger concedes

Gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin works the line of cars at a convention site in Annandale on Saturday. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — Former private-equity chief Glenn Youngkin became the Republican nominee for Virginia governor Monday night after his closest rival, business executive Pete Snyder, conceded while votes were still being tabulated.

The two candidates, both of whom embraced the politics of former president Donald Trump, had been the leaders throughout the day of a complicated, ranked-choice balloting process that slowly whittled down the field from seven contenders.

"I am prepared to lead, excited to serve and profoundly humbled by the trust the people have placed in me," Youngkin tweeted later Monday night. "Virginians have made it clear that they are ready for a political outsider with proven business experience to bring real change in Richmond."

State Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield) was the last name to fall before Snyder's concession in a contest that had seen all of the contenders embrace Trump's legacy to woo the party faithful.

Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights), a former speaker of the House of Delegates who was more cautious about Trump and was the only candidate to clearly acknowledge President Biden's electoral victory, was eliminated before Chase.

Three other candidates had been eliminated earlier Monday.

With Snyder and Youngkin locked in a final countdown, Snyder suddenly conceded on Twitter a little after 10 p.m.

"While certainly would have preferred a W, I send my heartfelt congratulations to @glennyoungkin on a tremendous race + deserved win," he tweeted, adding that Youngkin and the rest of the GOP ticket would have his "100% support."

Youngkin, 54, the former co-chief executive of the Carlyle Group, elbowed past contenders with far more political experience to lead the ticket for a Virginia GOP that has failed to win a statewide election since 2009.

While not as bombastic as Trump or some of his rivals for the nomination, Youngkin would not acknowledge Biden’s electoral win, made “election integrity” a centerpiece of his campaign and credited Trump with creating a “rip-roaring economy.”

His enthusiasm for Trump is a tightrope walk in a state where the former president remains popular with the GOP base but not with the electorate as a whole, having lost elections here by more than five points in 2016 and 10 points last year.

But Youngkin is a fresh face who has shown strength among business leaders and in the populous Northern Virginia region. The suburbs, which swung to blue during the Trump presidency, are likely to be the key battlegrounds in the Nov. 2 general election.

“Republicans cannot win in Virginia simply with Republican votes right now,” longtime Richmond political analyst Bob Holsworth said. “It seems to me that Youngkin, who has the most minimal record but is clearly a very good retail politician and has almost unlimited resources, will be able to run the most effective campaign of the Republican candidates.”

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker quickly branded Youngkin “a far-right extremist who has demonstrated total allegiance to Donald Trump.”

With Democrats set to choose their slate of candidates in a June 8 primary, the Virginia race will be watched nationwide as a bellwether for the 2022 congressional midterm elections. New Jersey is the only other state electing a governor this year, but that state is so solidly blue that Virginia is seen as posing the bigger test for both major parties in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.

That attention is sure to attract national money, Holsworth said, and Youngkin has vast resources of his own. All of which raises the possibility of “a break-the-bank, unprecedented financial mega-campaign,” Holsworth said. “You could well see over $50 million spent on a [single] gubernatorial campaign.”

In 2017, the two major-party candidates raised a combined $66 million, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Republicans settled on Youngkin late Monday night after a full day of vote counting in their unusual, “unassembled” nominating convention. About 30,000 registered delegates cast ranked-choice votes at 39 locations around the state Saturday.

On Sunday, Del. Jason S. Miyares (Virginia Beach) narrowly won the attorney general nod over Chuck Smith, a former Navy judge advocate general and gun rights activist who had an unexpectedly strong showing.

Virginia Del. Jason Miyares wins Republican nomination for state attorney general

Late Monday, Smith announced that he was formally requesting a recount. After losing to Miyares by more than three points, Smith acknowledged that he is not entitled to a recount under party rules, which provide for recounts when the margin is 1 percent or less.

But Smith said there had been a lot of confusion among vote-counters during the third round of tallying. Party rules give GOP Chairman Rich Anderson discretion to order a recount when he believes one is needed.

Anderson said he was confident the process had been “exacting” and accurate.

Some Republicans expressed concern that Smith’s recount request — whatever becomes of it — would cast doubt on the accuracy of the whole process. Some also worried that his request would raise the profile of Smith, who drew attention for anti-Muslim comments during his previous bid for the same office in 2017.

The party planned to move Tuesday to counting ballots in the race for the lieutenant governor nomination.

The ranked-choice process was time-consuming. On Monday, because no candidate for governor won a majority outright, the lowest vote-getter was eliminated and the count started over, using the second-choice votes from the ballots that had favored the eliminated candidate.

Octavia Johnson, a former Roanoke sheriff, was eliminated from the race shortly after 3 p.m., while Peter Doran, a former think tank executive, was cut right before 4 p.m. Retired Army Col. Sergio de la Peña was eliminated soon after.

Youngkin led in each round, but never with more than about a third of the vote in early rounds of counting.

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Several candidates had spent the campaign accusing one another of trying to “rig” the nomination contest, and those suspicions did not evaporate after voting ended. Alarms were raised Sunday morning when party officials arrived to find torn security tape on the back doors of the ballroom where the ballot boxes were sealed away. A guard had been posted out front, but it turned out that a housekeeper had entered through the rear to deliver coffee.

That set off an investigation that included reviewing security video and interviewing the housekeeper. Party leaders and at least two campaigns said they were satisfied that there had been no wrongdoing.

At Virginia’s GOP convention, being second choice in governor’s race is a good Plan B

But the Youngkin campaign was uneasy enough that it sent its own security team to guard the room Sunday night. As workers were closing up around 11 p.m. Sunday after announcing Miyares’s win, a bearded man with tattoos covering his muscled arms posted himself outside the door. He towered over the petite security guard the party had hired to stand there.

The man wore a shirt with the logo Colorado Security, the same firm Trump’s campaign hired, in an unusual and highly expensive move, to supplement Secret Service protection at his rallies.

Quickly drawing the attention of state party officials and campaign staffers, the man refused to give his name but said the Republican National Committee had sent him. Calls were made, and eventually the man conceded that he had been hired by Youngkin’s campaign. He and a second guard from Colorado Security finally left the hotel, with a hotel guard following them out. Youngkin’s campaign acknowledged hiring them but said the guards were not told to misrepresent themselves. “They were there tonight because RPV failed to provide a security guard last night and 3 doors had their seals broken,” the Youngkin spokesman said in a written statement Sunday night.

Three Republicans running for Virginia governor wary of vote-counting software

Observers from each campaign, many of them tired from the race’s homestretch and Sunday’s counting marathon, carefully watched over the counters’ shoulders on Monday to ensure a fair process.

Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (R-Virginia Beach) — a candidate for the lieutenant governor’s race — was in the room, as was the case Sunday. He said he thought he could get a feel for his chances as the workers flipped through the ballots. “Watching them count the ballots in the other races, I’m trying to get a feel for mine, which is a good way to drive yourself insane,” he said. “It’s kind of like Christmas morning: You don’t know whether you got coal or the new bicycle, and the anticipation is just killing me.”

Davis said he also worried that the squads of high-paid lawyers on hand on behalf of the various gubernatorial campaigns would start “nitpicking individual ballots,” perhaps raising challenges that could get some ballots disqualified for some perceived flaw before they could be counted in his race.

The other candidates for lieutenant governor are: Puneet Ahluwalia, a political and business consultant in Fairfax County; Lance Allen, a national security company executive in Fauquier County; former state delegate Timothy D. Hugo (Fairfax); Maeve Rigler, a lawyer; and former delegate Winsome Sears (Norfolk).

Justin Jouvenal contributed to this report.